Tokyo: The Japanese government believes that the long-standing issue of conflicting territorial claims and the post-war peace treaty with Russia must be settled as soon as practicable and not bequeathed to future generations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Monday.
Japan lays claims to the Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai islands in Russia’s Kuril Islands chain, which Tokyo refer to as its “Northern Territories,” citing the 1855 bilateral treaty on trade and borders. Russia insists that its sovereignty over the islands, which became part of the USSR after World War II, is undisputed.
“The government believes that the issue of a peace treaty with Russia cannot be put upon future generations. It is necessary to solve the problem of the ownership of the four Northern Islands and conclude a peace treaty. The government will continue to work on this on the basis of the bilateral agreements reached, including the agreements reached in Singapore in 2018,” Matsuno said at a press conference in Tokyo.
He stressed that Tokyo considers the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration signed on October 19, 1956, to be the basic legal document as it established a starting position for the process of further negotiations on the conclusion of a peace treaty.
“In view of the fact that 65 years have passed since the signing of the joint declaration, and the treaty was never signed, the government attaches great importance to this [the anniversary of the signing] in order to reaffirm the importance of addressing the issue of the Northern Territories,” Matsuno added.
In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration in which Moscow agreed to consider the possibility of transferring the Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty. The fate of Kunashir and Iturup was not addressed in the document. The Soviet Union hoped that the Joint Declaration would put an end to the dispute, while Japan considered it only as part of the solution to the problem and did not give up its claims to all the islands.
Subsequent negotiations never resulted in a peace treaty. Serious opposition arose from the United States, which threatened that if Japan agreed to the transfer of only two of the four islands, the move would affect the process of returning Okinawa under the Japanese sovereignty.
In 2018, Japan and Russia agreed to speed up negotiations on the peace treaty on the basis of the 1956 Japanese-Soviet Joint Declaration. Observers believe the step represented a serious concession on the part of Japan since its official position was the demand for the return of the four islands before the possible conclusion of a peace treaty.