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An academic who recently completed a visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the Russian-held islands claimed by Japan, says the island’s infrastructure development has convinced him Japan can no longer use its economic clout to settle the territorial dispute.

His comment came after a visa-free visit to the island off Hokkaido by 46 Japanese, including government officials and academics, that started last Friday. The mission was the last planned for the current fiscal year through March.

“With infrastructure development making progress, I realized that Japan can no longer use its economic and technological power as a diplomatic card,” Masao Shimojo, a history professor at Takushoku University, said at a news conference upon his return to Nemuro, Hokkaido.

“Construction companies in the state of Sakhalin were doing all the road and port construction projects,” he said, adding that three new heavy machines from a South Korean conglomerate had also been brought in.

Kenta Izumi, parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office, said the visit, which included field surveys and sessions with local residents, has made him think about how best to lay out future developments as bilateral exchanges continue to expand.

Japanese researchers acting separately from the no-visa exchange mission also returned on the same chartered vessel Monday. They succeeded in photographing three rare brown bears that are white in color on Kunashiri, and were analyzing the images, they said. These bears are only found on Kunashiri and Etorofu islands.

About 580 people have visited the Russian-controlled area comprising Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets since April as part of an exchange program that exempts the Japanese from obtaining Russian visas for entry.

The Japanese government takes the position that the islands are illegally occupied by Russia. Based on a 1989 statement by the chief Cabinet secretary at the time, Tokyo has called on Japanese citizens not to enter the territories through Russian immigration procedures, such as by obtaining a Russian visa, until the dispute is resolved.

Radio program ends

KHABAROVSK Russia (Kyodo) A Japanese announcer and his wife made their last recording Monday of a long-running program to be discontinued this month from the Japanese-language service of the Voice of Russia, the country’s state radio broadcaster.

Dating back to 1946, the roughly 40-minute-long “Siberia Galaxy Station” on Saturdays has been produced by the broadcaster’s Khabarovsk bureau as part of a two-hour daily Japanese-language broadcast.

The final show will air this Saturday night.

Kazuya Okada, 49, has been the only Japanese announcer at the bureau. “I’ve come all the way thanks to my listeners,” Okada, who is from the city of Saitama, said after the recording. “With the last recording over, I have a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction.”

The Japanese-language service airs on medium- and shortwave frequencies from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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