I am fed up with Russia’s unreasonable attitude on the reversion to Japan of the four Russian-occupied northern islands and on the conclusion of a Russo-Japanese peace treaty.
I had long thought that no quick progress could be made in Japan’s negotiations with Russia. But when former Russian President Boris Yeltsin met with then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the Russian leader reportedly said his country would abide by principles of law and justice and would negotiate with Japan on those principles.
Yeltsin’s words did not convince me because the history of our bilateral relationship shows that the Slavic people, whether they are under communist or noncommunist rule, have a built-in tendency to refuse to differentiate between what belongs to them and what belongs to others. Hashimoto and Yeltsin met several times, and at their meeting in Kawana in 1998, it was agreed that the Northern Territories issue would be resolved and a peace treaty concluded by the year 2000. When I asked if that meant the target date was the end of 1999, Minoru Tanba of the Foreign Office, now the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, replied that “by the end of the year 2000 means by Dec. 31, 2000.”
Even though this was an odd explanation, the Japanese government, including the Foreign Ministry, insisted that efforts were being made to resolve pending issues by the end of the year 2000. Yet negotiations did not even start before the end of last year.
What happened to Yeltsin’s promise that Russia would observe the principles of law and justice? It is apparent that Russian leaders, like their Soviet predecessors, do what they like and do not care what happens to others. An example of this occurred when Foreign Minister Yohei Kono visited Moscow recently.
Kono urged his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, to start the bilateral talks soon and proposed an early meeting between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ivanov’s reply was that he could not do anything because Putin was too busy. I was infuriated by this attitude, which I thought ran completely counter to diplomatic protocol.
Moreover, Putin is quoted as having said that reversion of the Northern Territories to Japan was out of the question and that he was not interested in starting talks on a peace treaty based on the premise that two of the four islands would be returned to Japan.
This is utterly intolerable, because it was the Russian side — that is, former President Yeltsin — who proposed to start bilateral discussions according to the principles of law and justice. Why can’t Russia become more reasonable?
That sort of attitude on the part of the Slavic leaders is understandable if one looks at the history of diplomatic relations with them. For example, toward the end of World War II, in 1945, the United States delivered a fatal blow to Japan by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9 respectively. Josef Stalin, the supreme leader of the Soviet Union, knew of the U.S. plans, and within hours of the dropping of the deadly bomb on Nagasaki, he declared war against Japan, which he thought was incapable of retaliating. The Soviet Union lost no time in occupying the Northern Islands after making sure that U.S. forces were not present.
All this happened despite the fact that Japan and the Soviet Union had a nonaggression pact that was valid until the end of April 1946. The Soviet Union took that action despite the existence of the bilateral neutrality treaty.
Earlier in the war, the Japanese government clung to the nonaggression treaty with the Soviet Union and sought Moscow’s mediation in ending the war with the U.S. For that purpose, then Japanese Ambassador Naotake Sato sought an appointment with Stalin, but the latter did not comply and made many excuses. This is analogous to Putin’s behavior in not meeting with Mori. This irrational diplomatic attitude has not changed over the past 60 years.
Before the start of World War II, when the Japan-Soviet nonaggression pact was concluded, Stalin shook hands with then Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and declared that the treaty was essential for stability in Asia and that he, too, was an Asian. This enabled Matsuoka to make a triumphant return to Tokyo, where the government decided to fight against the U.S. and Britain without fear of attack from the Soviet Union. But Moscow ignored the treaty. All these events show that the Japanese are easy to deceive. In diplomatic negotiations with Russia, Japan must be patient and wary of deception.
The Russian government appears to have no intention of returning the Northern Territories to Japan. It is essential for Japan to declare to the world that Russia is unreasonable despite its pledge to abide by law and justice, and that Russia is taking the wrong attitude by insisting that what was lost in war must be regained by force.
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