It is sometimes difficult to understand Japan’s stance toward Russia 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 Tokyo?
Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto protested last week after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov visited two of the four Russian-held disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. The islands are referred to as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Matsumoto stated that it (the visit) “runs counter to Japan’s basic position and hurts the feelings of Japanese people.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano also weighed in by stating that recent visits to the isles by Russian ministers 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) nor Hokkaido belonged to Japan. The people of Okinawa have mainly lost their indigenous language, while the Ainu people are also in danger of losing their culture and ethnicity.
Therefore, if neither Okinawa nor Hokkaido, and the Southern Kurils, belonged to Japan before the Meiji Restoration, 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 Russia because neither nation in history has controlled the Southern Kurils (Northern Territories) for long periods of time.
In my view, neither Japan nor Russia 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 II. Therefore, while the Russians may offer parts of the disputed region in the future, it is most unlikely that this will ever apply to Sakhalin, for example, because of geopolitical factors and natural resources.
Recently, Russia increased its military power in the region. 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 Russian 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 Kurils and of the Pacific Fleet capabilities may not be aimed at Japan or China per se, but the U..S – Russia’s true present number one strategic concern.”
Russia is blessed with vast resources of gas, oil and other natural resources and it is abundantly clear that Japan is over-reliant on the Middle East for its energy supplies.
Following the March 11 disaster in Japan, Russia made it clear to Japan that it was willing to help Japan with its energy needs, and the offer still stands.
A face-saving deal over these relatively unimportant isles is in Japan’s interest and this is the only offer that Tokyo is likely to get from Moscow. Japan should stop playing the nationalist card because Russia could enhance Japan’s national security in the field of energy. Not only that, Russia also pulls many strings in resource-rich Central Asia.
If Japan wants a diverse energy policy and friendly relations in a region of few friends, then Tokyo would be wise to focus on developing relations with Russia.© Modern Tokyo Times