The Northern Territories Issue and the Japan-Russia Relations

August 23, 2018

The other day, I visited Cape Nosappu of Nemuro City, Hokkaido, to attend an event to call for the return of the Northern Territories. Japan is geopolitically surrounded by military giants, such as North Korea, China and Russia. Among them, Russia, which is already under the economic sanction by Japan, the United States and Europe, due to its attempt to change the status quo by force as seen in the case of its annexation of Crimea, has of late been yet another subject of the further sanctions, because of its involvement in an ex-spy murder case in Britain. As a matter fact, the Northern Territories which Russia has been illegally occupying, is the first case in the world of the post WWII which then-Soviet changed the status quo by force. If the unlawful change of the status quo by force would be allowed, the international community would face a chain reaction of distrust and chaos, then the mutual distrust will lead to unnecessary arms race from which no one benefits. This is the reason why the international society has rejected such an illegal attempt. Therefore, Japan needs to appeal more to the world of former Soviet Union and current Russia’s illegal invasion and the occupation of the Northern Territories.

Legally speaking, even after the World War II, Kuril Islands up to Shumshu Island belong to Japan along with the Norther Territories, due to the historical fact that they were never earned by force. The accurate understanding is because Japan gave up its rights over Kuril Islands (and Southern Sakhalin) based on Treaty of San Francisco in 1951 that only the Northern Territories, never had it been in the history controlled by any other countries but Japan, is a Japanese territory. Kuril Islands had been a part of Japanese territory in peace and with no doubt, based on the treaties with Russian Empire since Edo period, unlike the case of Southern Sakhalin which Japan won as the result of Russo-Japanese War in the first place. Therefore, at the point when Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered, thus officially the fighting of the WWII ended, it is the historical fact that the Kuril Islands in addition to the Northern Territory were part of Japan. Moreover, what requires an accurate understanding and is important in the international legal context is that it was after the end of the WWII when the Soviet military invaded the surrendered, nonresisting Japan and illegally occupied the Kuril Islands and the Northern Territories.

So the critical fact is that Russia has been occupying the Northern Territories originated from the illegal invasion that was unrelated to the “WWII”. While Japan had given up the Kuril Islands based on the Treaty of San Francisco, the Northern Territories had originally been a part of Japan but nowhere else in the history, other than the case of the Soviet invasion, that in fact there is not even a space for the discussion. It is necessary to share this understanding and reaffirm domestically and internationally. It was not even a battle field by the end of WWII, and the attempt to make the illegal occupation caused by the illegal invasion in the post-war a fait accompli, is a behavior the international community has been criticizing since the WWII, and the essence of such Russia/Soviet were witnessed by the world on their recent invasion to Crimea.

For Japan, especially regarding the Northern Territories, it is not something we ask Russia’s consideration by promoting the economic cooperation, but we shall accurately appeal to the world of Russia’s illegal action, to earn the common understanding in the international voices. The fact that Chinese Communist Party had recognized the Northern Territories as Japan’s up to some point and then changed the official view is the evidence of the fact that China-Russia relations have been motivated on the strategic factors. And the lesson tells us that Japan should not come too close to Russia, ignoring the international favor, because in the long term national interest, it does not seem to be desirable for Japan.