Japan’s Northern Territories
“Bankisha” visits Hokkaido to find out what’s up with Russian President’s Dmitry Medvedev visit to the disputed Kuril islands :
A few points:
- The islands were attacked and seized by the Russian military following Japan’s August 15th surrender. The islands were then ethnically cleansed: 17,000 Japanese who lived there were kicked out of their homes and replaced with Russian settlers.
- The city of Nemuro still prints maps that label some of the islands as part of its administrative responsibility. The Nemuro city hall also keeps records of the Japanese people who used to live on the islands. There are also 172 Japanese people who have never lived in the Northern Territories but have listed addresses on the islands in their family registries (to protest the Russian occupation).
- The islands are very close to Hokkaido. Japanese fishing boats cannot cross the median line between Russian-controlled sea and Japanese-controlled sea. They are restricted to a narrow area while a far smaller number of Russian fishing boats is able to take advantage of the waters around the islands. Most of the fish caught by the Russians is exported to Japan.
- The Russian population of the islands has been dropping over the years. The Russian government is convincing people to stay there by heavily subsidizing their living expenses. One can observe new houses on the islands, no doubt paid for by the Russian government. Inside one house, the residents describe their television as “a gift from the President.” Medvedev’s visit to the island was meant to underline the government’s commitment to financially supporting the people who choose to live on the islands. [Moscow will spend $600 million on the Kurils for its 2007-2015 budget, with a possible $430 million increase coming soon.]
Although President Medvedev is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Kan at the upcoming APEC meeting Yokohama, there is little hope that they will be able to achieve a solution to the territorial dispute.