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The dispute with Russia is not awarded the exposition

Why Japan did not present the problem of "northern territories" in the museum of territorial disputes

The dispute with Russia is not awarded the exposition

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
At the end of January in Tokyo, a Japanese government-sponsored exhibition opened at the Tokyo City Hall to justify Japanese sovereignty over islands over which the country has disputes with China and South Korea. The collection features historical documents, including maps, letters, and newspaper articles, highlighting the government's official position that the Senkaku (in Chinese Diaoyu Islands) in the East China Sea and Takeshima (in Korean Dokdo) in the Sea of ​​Japan are integral part of Japanese territory. 

Exhibits are accompanied by explanatory texts in Japanese and English. It should be noted, however, that the exhibition is taking place at a difficult moment in the next aggravation of Japan's relations with China and South Korea, including over territorial conflicts between these countries. There is no doubt that the exposition will be highly appreciated by Japanese politicians and right-wing organizations.

Around the uninhabited islands of Takeshima / Dokdo, currently controlled by Seoul, there have been tensions in the past between the South Korean and Japanese governments. The last major incident took place in 2012, when then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited one of the islets. The visit inflamed relations between Tokyo and Seoul to the limit. By the way, some Japanese political analysts believe that the South Korean leader decided to take this step, inspired by the example of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who made the first trip of the head of state in Russian history to the Kuril Islands in 2010.

As you know, the island of Kunashir, which Dmitry Medvedev visited, is part of the four South Kuril Islands, which Japan claims, calling them their own northern territories. The trip of the Russian president to the island, which Japan considers to be its own, caused an outburst of indignation of the official Tokyo. The inadequate response to Medvedev's visit by the Japanese authorities led to the fact that Russian-Japanese relations were at that time collapsed to the lowest point for the entire post-Soviet period. They were straightened only after Vladimir Putin returned to the chair of the country's president in 2012.

Now the Japanese-South Korean relations are again in the aggravation stage in connection with the intention of President of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Moon Zhe In, to reconsider the agreement between Tokyo and Seoul about the so-called women for comfort and comfort... The Japanese side considers the agreement final and irreversible and does not want to hear about revision. In connection with the demands of Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until recently even thought about giving up a trip to the South Korean city of Pyeongchang for the opening of the Winter Olympics. True, in the end he will still go to South Korea, but the main purpose of the trip is to dissuade Moon Jae-in from pursuing his conciliatory policy towards the DPRK. Abe believes that such a policy will violate the united front of pressure on this country consisting of Japan, the United States and South Korea, created to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear missile potential.

As for the Japan-South Korea dispute over the Takeshima / Dokdo Islands, Seoul did not fail to recall once again "who is the master of the house," at the banquet on the occasion of the visit to South Korea of ​​American President Donald Trump in November last year, a shrimp dish with indicating that they were caught in the waters of these islands. In this regard, Tokyo said an official protest.

The Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands are controlled by the Japanese government and have remained the center of tension in Sino-Japanese relations since an attempt to buy them out from a private Japanese owner in 2012 by an ardent nationalist, former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. Both the last US presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have consistently supported Japan in the territorial dispute with China. Beijing, on the other hand, in support of the correctness of its claims to the islands, has regularly sent its ships and aircraft into the waters near them, including territorial ones, over the past five years.

An incident in January, when Japanese Self-Defense Forces planes spotted a Chinese submarine underwater near Senkaku / Diaoyu, once again inflamed Sino-Sino relations. In response to the increased Chinese presence in the areas around the disputed islands, Japan redeployed part of its armed forces to the south in order to counter the so-called maritime expansion of China.  

The exhibition was organized by the Government Office for Planning and Coordination of Territories and Sovereignty Policies, which, according to the organization's website, was established in 2012 "to promote correct understanding at home and abroad of the relevant facts and position of Japan regarding territorial integrity of the country ". The government official in charge of the project said: "We intend to keep it open to the public for an indefinite period of time." Tesuma Esaki, Special Minister in charge of Japan's territorial conflicts with neighboring countries, echoed the statement, stressing that the purpose of the exhibition is to provide the broadest possible understanding of the Japanese position in these conflicts, both domestically and abroad.

South Korea has already condemned the opening of the museum and demanded that Japan close it. "The Japanese government must immediately stop making senseless claims against Dokdo, which from the point of view of history, geography and international law are clearly part of our territory," said a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

By the way, South Korea itself opened a similar museum in the center of Seoul as early as 2012 to reinforce its rights to the Dokdo Islands. In it, visitors can stroll around a large three-dimensional model of islands and get acquainted with video and computerized materials about their history and nature.

In connection with the opening of the territorial museum in Tokyo, a natural question arises as to why it does not have an exposition specifying the validity of the Japanese claims to the four islands of the southern Kurils. It seems that the answer should be sought in the state of the Russian-Japanese territorial problem, which is qualitatively different from Japan's territorial conflicts with China and South Korea. The difference is that in these conflicts, where the parties only exchange mutual claims and accusations and do not have any dialogue, there are absolutely no prospects for their solution (however, as in virtually all other territorial disputes in the world).  

Against this background, in relations between Russia and Japan, thanks to the efforts of their current leaders, attempts have been made in recent years to find a compromise solution to the territorial problem that aggravates bilateral ties. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have already met two dozen times (if we count Abe's first term as prime minister in 2006-2007), and the center of their negotiations, as, in any case, the Japanese media claim, has always been territorial problem. In contrast, the leaders of China and South Korea at their level never discuss bilateral territorial issues with their Japanese counterparts.  

After Dmitry Medvedev's irreconcilable stance on Japan's claims to the southern Kuril Islands during his tenure, Putin's readiness to find a mutually acceptable solution to this problem has greatly encouraged Tokyo. It is on Putin that Prime Minister Abe makes a personal stake in solving the problem of the northern territories, promising to return them to the country during the lifetime of the current generation of Japanese. He would very much like to go down in the history of the country as a politician who managed to solve a problem that no one before him could get off the ground for more than 70 years after the end of World War II. For this, Abe is even ready to go for a certain rapprochement with Russia in the economic and other spheres. And this despite the discontent on the part of its closest ally - the United States and other Western countries, which imposed economic and other sanctions on Moscow.

In Japan, it is believed that Putin will win the presidential elections in Russia in March 2018, and Abe will be able to secure a third term as head of the country for the first time in Japanese history in the elections of the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September of the same year and extend his tenure as prime minister. chair until 2021. Proceeding from this, the Japanese side intends to continue its attempts to find a solution to the territorial dispute with Russia that suits it in the format of the Russian-Japanese tandem of charismatic leaders Putin-Abe. To this end, Prime Minister Abe plans to come to Moscow in May this year for the opening of the cross-years of culture of Russia and Japan, and to St. Petersburg to participate in the next international economic forum. He also intends to take part in the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September for the third time.

However, Tokyo's plans go further. According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government is considering inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan around May 2019 in order to make progress on a decades-old territorial dispute. The newspaper writes that the last time Putin visited Japan was in December 2016. The trip was considered a potential turning point in a dispute over sovereignty over a chain of islands near Hokkaido, held by Russia but claimed by Japan, but produced little tangible results. Putin is expected to visit Japan next year anyway to attend the G20 leaders' summit. According to the Japan Times, citing a government official, Tokyo increasingly believes the territorial issue "must be pushed forward as long as Putin, who has stable backing at home, remains in power."

According to the newspaper, during Putin's latest visit to Japan, the leaders agreed to begin negotiations on the implementation of joint economic projects on the disputed islands so as not to prejudice the legal positions of each country regarding sovereignty over the disputed territories. According to the publication, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clearly hopes that his own trains to Russia in May this year, coupled with Putin's visit next year, could lead to the start of joint projects on the disputed islands.

However, the newspaper writes, the question remains as to whether economic cooperation will really help resolve the dispute over sovereignty over the islands, which prevents Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II. Abe is expected to pass on an invitation to Putin to visit Japan next year during his May visit to Russia. Japanese officials are also probing the ground for the possibility of high-level bilateral talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea in mid-November and the G-20 summit in Argentina later that month.

At the same time, the influential mouthpiece of Japanese business circles, the Nikkei newspaper, is not sure that the Japanese leader will be able to resolve the territorial dispute with Russia. According to the publication, an insurmountable obstacle to this is the strengthening of Japan's ties with its main and only military-political ally - the United States. At a press conference in Moscow in April 2016, Nikkei recalls, Abe called Putin by name, but the Russian leader adhered to a more formal address, using the words "Prime Minister Abe" or "Abe-san." The newspaper also calculated that since then, the two leaders have spent less and less time alone. Their meeting in Moscow in April 2017 lasted 50 minutes, but they only negotiated in private for 20 minutes in Vladivostok in September. Their talks at the APEC summit in Vietnam in November ended within 15 minutes.

At the same time, the newspaper draws attention to the fact that the meeting of the two leaders took place just after the deafening victory of Abe's ruling coalition in the general elections to the Japanese parliament in October last year. Speaking at a press conference ahead of the summit, Putin congratulated Abe on his victory and said that the victory set the stage for the two countries to "carry out all (their) plans." There were no major breakthroughs at the meeting, but Abe and his advisers were encouraged by Putin's tone, the business newspaper notes.

It can be assumed that it is precisely this tone, which reflects the general atmosphere in Russian-Japanese relations, that gives Tokyo reason to count on Russia's softer approaches in the territorial dispute with Japan compared to the position of China and South Korea in their own island conflicts with this country. Apparently, not wishing to complicate such an atmosphere once again, the Japanese authorities decided to refrain from the exposition dedicated to its claims to the southern Kuriles during the aforementioned exhibition. Indeed, taking into account the fact that, in addition to mainland China, Taiwan also claims to the Senkaku / Diaoyudao Islands, Japan found itself in a semicircle of territorial disputes with virtually all of its neighbors (the other half of the ring is made up of the waters of the Pacific Ocean).

Or maybe in Tokyo they view Russia as the weakest link in the chain of island conflicts between Japan and neighboring countries, grabbing hold of which, you can pull the whole chain?
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