the May 13 article “Aso, Putin ink nuclear-power deal“: Even though the Russian government will probably never declare it out loud, all the signs it is sending are clear. Although Russia is not arguing how it took possession of these islands, it will never fully return them to Japan. Russia is playing its card smartly. When he stated that “conditions are not yet ripe for Russia and Japan to achieve a breakthrough,” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made the strengthening of economic and bilateral ties a prerequisite for discussions on the islands. Japan should have demanded the opposite: return of the islands as a prerequisite for the development of economic and bilateral ties.
Perhaps, Prime Minister Taro Aso, knowing full well that these islands will never be returned, signed a nuclear energy treaty to send a signal to Russia that Japan wants to explore other avenues to settle the dispute. As Russia continues to solidify its presence through economic and social developments, the islands appear less and less “Japanese” by the year. The time will soon come when Russia bluntly asks Japan, “Look, how can you claim sovereignty over the islands when it is Russia that has been developing them for the last 60 years?” The dispute must be settled before that point is reached. Japan Times writer Jun Hongo is right: Every time there is a delay in the discussions, whether due to unrelated disputes between the two countries or to another change in Japan’s prime minister, Russia wins.
It’s time for Japan to consider a lease agreement with Russia for the occupation and use of the islands: Russia would pay rent, and Russians and Japanese could live there. Governorship of the islands would alternate between Japan and Russia every five years and both countries would share investment costs, proceeds and fishing rights, 50/50. Japanese who lost lands on the islands in 1945 should be compensated with new lands to settle on.
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