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2010年11月 4日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 2
EDITORIAL: Medvedev in Kunashiri

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday visited Kunashiri Island, ignoring the Japanese government's warning that such a trip would seriously hurt the bilateral relationship. We believe that it has.
Kunashiri is one of the four Russian-held islands in the disputed Northern Territories off Hokkaido.

This was the first visit by a Russian leader to the Northern Territories. Even in the Soviet era, when the Kremlin insisted there was "no territorial issue (with Japan)," no leader of that country set foot in the Northern Territories.

A complex mesh of history and popular sentiments renders any territorial dispute extremely difficult to resolve.

Medvedev himself had stressed the importance of calm and reasoned discussion. Tokyo and Moscow have repeatedly agreed to seek a negotiated settlement.

Yet, Moscow unilaterally set Medvedev's trip schedule. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated to the effect that it is up to the president to decide where to go in his own territory.

We must say Moscow's highhandedness could undo any progress made so far in bilateral talks.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed regret in the Diet, saying, "The four islands are our territory." Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned Russian Ambassador Mikhail Bely and pointed out that Medvedev's visit conflicted with Japan's basic position on the territorial issue and hurt the feelings of the Japanese people.

Tokyo must pursue every diplomatic avenue to make its stance clear to Moscow.

Medvedev's trip can be interpreted in a number of ways.

With the next presidential election coming up in 2012, perhaps Medvedev wanted to project an image of a strong leader.

Another possibility is that Moscow, which is now reinforcing its cooperation with China and is also well aware of Tokyo's shaky diplomacy with Beijing over the Senkaku Islands dispute, decided to see how Tokyo would react.

Japan didn't help matters by repeatedly accusing Russia of illegally occupying the four islands. The harsh accusations partly invited Moscow's hard-line reaction.

Russia will not benefit from damaging its relationship with Japan now, however.

Together with the United States, Russia will formally participate in the East Asia Summit from next year. The summit is a forum held annually by nations in the region, including Japan, China and Southeast Asian countries.

With an eye on promoting development in the Russian Far East and Siberia, Moscow has been increasingly involved in Asia-Pacific affairs.
The country is expected to play a more constructive role in furthering regional economic integration and security.

At a time such as this, Japan and Russia have much to gain by expanding their collaborative relationship.

Medvedev's visit was another reminder of the difficulty of diplomacy with Russia.

Whenever an advance was made in Japan-Russia relations in the past, Japan had a clear vision for the improvement of mutual interests. One example was the "Eurasian diplomacy" concept advocated by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Given Russia's strong sense of entitlement as a superpower, Japan will not succeed in advancing bilateral relations by simply repeating its "legitimate ownership" of the disputed islands.

Medvedev is scheduled to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama this month.

We hope it will serve as an occasion for resetting Japan's policy toward Russia and asking the country to act with restraint.


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