Lee Jay Walker – Japan Continues to Play the Nationalist Card Against the Russian Federation

It is sometimes difficult to understand Japan’s stance towards the Russian Federation given the reality that American forces are based in various parts of Japan.  Therefore, why is the nationalist card being turned on and off when it suits?

The Japanese Foreign Minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, was dismayed after the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, visited the Southern Kurils (Northern Territories according to Japan).

Takaeki Matsumoto stated that it “runs counter to Japan’s basic position and hurts the feelings of Japanese people.”

Yukio Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary, also weighed in by stating that recent visits have “seriously damaged the feelings of our people. I believe Russia will not gain anything from them.”

However, prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868 neither Okinawa (Ryukyu) or Hokkaido belonged to Japan.  The people of Okinawa have mainly lost their indigenous language and Japanization was rapid.  However, the Ainu people, unlike the Okinawans, completely succumbed to Japanization and you have very little left of Ainu culture and ethnicity.

Therefore, if neither Okinawa, Hokkaido, and the Southern Kurils (Northern Territories), belonged to Japan before the Meiji Restoration of 1868; then how ingrained is Japanese culture to the disputed region and how can Japan claim that they have a natural right to somewhere which was always independent of Japan until recent history?

The same applies to the Russian Federation because neither nation in history has controlled the Southern Kurils (Northern Territories) for long periods of time.

In northern Japan, the Ainu just succumbed to greater numbers of Japanese settlers and in time the number of new settlers completely subdued Ainu culture.

Neither Japan nor the Russian Federation have a legal right to the disputed isles when applied to history because this region was independent and the indigenous people were neither Japanese or Russian.

The Russian Federation came into being after the demise of the Soviet Union but this nation state maintains the same legacy and this applies to events during World War Two.

Therefore, while the Russian Federation may offer parts of the disputed region in the future; it is most unlikely that this will ever apply to Sakhalin because of geopolitical factors and natural resources.

Recently the Russian Federation increased its military power in the Southern Kurils/Northern Territories.  However, this fact is not aimed at Japan because Russia’s main concern is the United States and protecting this strategic region from outside powers.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a journalist, commented in The James Foundation that “Japan is not a first-class priority in Russian politics or strategic planning. The strategic build up in the Kuriles and of the Pacific Fleet capabilities may not be aimed at Japan or China per se, but the US – Russia’s true present number one strategic concern.”

The Russian Federation is blessed with vast resources of gas, oil, and other natural resources and it is abundantly clear that Japan is over reliant on Middle East energy.

During the recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis which began on March 11 after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake; the Russian Federation made it clear to Japan that they could help to solve the energy crisis that Japan faces.

A face saving deal over less important islets is in Japan’s interest and this is the only offer that the Russian Federation may provide.  However, Sakhalin is too important and the Russian Federation will not hand this region to any nation state because the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev is not the weak and enfeebled nation which existed under Boris Yeltsin.

Japan should stop playing the nationalist card because the Russian Federation could enhance Japan’s national security in the field of energy.  After all, the Russian Federation also pulls many strings in Central Asia.

Historical wise; the disputed area does not belong to either nation.

However, events unfolded during World War Two and the Soviet Union was the innocent party when applied to German Nazism and the Allies asked the Soviet Union to go to war with Japan in 1945.

After all, the Soviet Union did not start World War Two.

The Yalta agreement (February 1945), the Potsdam Declaration (July 1945) and the Treaty of San Francisco (September 1951), do, on the whole, support the Soviet Union.

However, the vagueness of which area comes under which geographic region is disputed and the United States had changed its thinking by 1951.  After all, the Soviet Union was a needed ally during World War Two against German Nazism but by 1951 the Cold War had entered the fray.

Yalta had been favorable to the Soviet Union and clearly America and Great Britain had supported the Soviet Union against Japan in this period.

Yalta stipulates that “the Soviet Union, the United States of America and Great Britain – have agreed that in two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into war against Japan on the side of the Allies on condition that: [….] 2. The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored, viz.: (a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union; [….] 3. The Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.”

The Russian Federation in 2006 under Vladimir Putin did state that Shikotan and the Habomais could be given to Japan on condition that Japan renounces all other disputed areas.

However, Japan refused but with each passing year the Russian Federation is gaining in power and the “economic carrot” that Boris Yeltsin was thinking about no longer applies.

If Japan wants a diverse energy policy and friendly relations in a region of few friends; then leaders in Tokyo would be wise to resolve this dispute and focus on developing relations with the Russian Federation.

Modern Tokyo Times

19 May 2011


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