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Abe's diplomacy at Olympics signals end to Russia dispute

Publication Date : 13-02-2014


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe couldn't have a talk with mainland Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi on the Black Sea shore of Russia last Friday, but scored a nimble win in his summit diplomacy by getting Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Tokyo in the fall to discuss how to facilitate the return to Japan of its Northern Territories.

Abe wanted to meet Xi to conciliate the increasingly serious sovereignty dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China and Diaoyutai in Taiwan, which started in 2012 when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda nationalised three of the eight uninhabited islets just 100 miles northeast of Keelung.

Failing that, Abe nonetheless triumphed by persuading Putin to get negotiations for a peace treaty between Russia and Japan started during the Russian president's visit to Tokyo somewhere between October and December.

The Soviet Union invaded four of the Kurile Islands nearest to Hokkaido in September 1945, after Japan surrendered to end its Great East Asian War on August 15.

The four islands the Soviets occupied are Kunashiri, Shikotan, Habomai and Etorofu.

In the San Francisco peace conference of 1951, Japan renounced the Kurile Islands except the four that have come to be called its Northern Territories.

Japan acquired the four islands under the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda, and the whole of the Kurile chain in exchange for Sakhalin under the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg.

But the Soviets did not sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 that formally ended World War II. Japan has since tried to regain its Northern Territories. The Russo-Japanese joint declaration of 1956 ended the state of war, and the Tokyo Declaration issued by Boris Yeltsin and Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993 specified that a peace treaty should be concluded to resolve the Kurile Islands dispute.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori met with Putin in 2001 to issue the Irkutsk Statement on the peace treaty.

Mori's successor Junichiro Koizumi and Putin announced the Japan-Russia Action Plan in 2003 and Abe met Putin in June 2007 to affirm their commitment to making progress in negotiations for the peace treaty to resolve the territorial issue.

But negotiations haven't truly gotten under way. Now that Abe has succeeded in getting Putin to come to the negotiating table, chances are that a Russo-Japanese peace treaty may be signed shortly.

Abe will be able to complete Japan's irredentist movement, the first success in which was achieved by his maternal grandfather Eisaku Sato, who got the United States to return the American-occupied Okinawa Islands in 1972.

There remains one summit diplomatic event Abe has to shape.

He has to meet Xi to appease the People's Republic lest the current dispute over the Senkakus should get out of control through Beijing's establishment of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea and his official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the eight Class A war criminals are honored.

The United States officially expressed its “disappointment” with Abe's Yasukuni pilgrimage and called for diplomatic dialogue between Tokyo and Beijing to de-escalate the Senkaku dispute.

Beijing has made it clear that the diplomatic dialogue may begin if Tokyo admits there exists a sovereignty dispute, while Japan insists that the tiny archipelago is indisputably its inherent territory.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to make an official visit to Asia in April, and one of the countries he will visit is Japan, with the other countries on his schedule yet to be announced. He may go to Beijing to return the US visit Xi made in June last year.

Abe should talk with Obama in Tokyo about how to begin Sino-Japanese talks. If Obama visits Beijing after Tokyo, he will be able to persuade Xi to talk with Abe.

It isn't hard for Abe to accept Xi's sine qua non of admitting the indisputable fact that Japan's sovereignty over the Senkakus is disputed.


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