Japan has urged Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev not to visit disputed islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday, calling the planned trip to the isles at the center of a long-standing bilateral dispute “unacceptable.”
The planned visit, seen by experts as underlining Moscow’s intention to reassert its control of the four islands, comes at a time when Tokyo and Moscow are making preparations for President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan later this year.
Kishida said at a news conference that the visit, if it takes place, would “go against Japan’s position on the territories and hurt the feelings of the Japanese people.”
The Japanese Embassy in Moscow conveyed Tokyo’s concern Thursday to the Russian Foreign Ministry and called for Medvedev not to make the visit, he said.
Japan is “keeping close tabs” on recent developments in Russia, Kishida said, while downplaying any possible impact of Medvedev’s visit on Putin’s trip to Japan.
The islands in question, called Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia, are Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets that were seized by Soviet forces following Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945. The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from concluding a postwar peace treaty.
The Russian daily Kommersant reported online Friday that Medvedev is considering visiting Etorofu in August to attend a youth event which will be held from Aug. 12-24 and include a dialogue meeting between young people and government leaders.
The Russian prime minister, who ranks second in the government led by Putin, indicated at a government meeting Thursday that he plans to inspect economic development on some of the Kuril islands, saying they would play an important role in Russia’s defense.
Cabinet members approved a 10-year development plan for the Kurils starting next year, for which Medvedev said the government will spend 70 billion rubles (¥147.8 billion).
While he was president, in November 2010 Medvedev visited Kunashiri, becoming the first Russian leader to do so. He also inspected Kunashiri in July 2012 as prime minister.
Putin’s Japan visit is being arranged after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin agreed in November it should be realized at an appropriate time this year.
To lay the groundwork, Japan is making arrangements for Kishida to visit Russia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, according to Japanese government sources.
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