• Kyodo

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The Hokkaido Prefectural Government drew up development plans around 1956 for one of three islands and a group of islets off its coast when the then Soviet Union agreed to return them to Japan, according to plans filed at a Sapporo document center.

The development plans are for Shikotan Island and the Habomai islets, which were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II along with two larger islands, Etorofu and Kunashiri. The four still belong to Russia despite Tokyo’s demands they be returned.

The plans, obtained Monday by Kyodo News, were kept at the Archives of Hokkaido.

The plans show that the Hokkaido government requested that the state introduce special legislation and make a fiscal commitment to promote development of the islands. They also detail schemes for improving infrastructure and buildings on the islands.

Hokkaido compiled the development plan for the Habomai islets in fiscal 1956 and for Shikotan in fiscal 1958.

In their 1956 joint declaration, Japan and the Soviet Union agreed that Shikotan and the Habomais would be returned to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty between Tokyo and Moscow. Hokkaido had six projects in mind to develop the Habomai islets. One was to improve a reintegration system to help people returning to the islets. Another focused on modifying and maintaining educational facilities. The plan also includes an estimate for the cost of building six school buildings.

For Shikotan, Hokkaido paid specific attention to seaweed crops and inshore fishing.

The disputed islands measure 5,036 sq. km in total. Of these, the Habomai islets measure 99.9 sq. km and Shikotan 253.3 sq. km.

As of March, 467 people were living on Shikotan, according to the central government. The Habomai islets, which have no permanent residents, were believed to be home to about 4,500 Japanese before the war.

Hiroshi Kimura, professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, said it is interesting to see that the prefecture had just begun devising development plans for Shikotan and Habomai when domestic opposition and U.S. intervention forced Japan and the Soviet Union to sign a joint declaration, rather than a peace treaty.

Shigeki Hakamada, a Russian affairs professor at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, said he believes Hokkaido drew up the development plans at a time when both countries still believed Shikotan and Habomai would be returned.

Moscow unilaterally told Japan in a 1960 memorandum that it would return the two on condition that foreign troops withdrew from Japan, an apparent protest to the revision of the Japan-U.S. security treaty the same year.

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