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HOME  > Past issues  > 2010 October 27 - November 2  > Historical record of Japan-Russia territorial question
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2010 October 27 - November 2 TOP3 [TERRITORIAL ISSUE]

Historical record of Japan-Russia territorial question

November 2, 2010
The Japanese Communist Party, since it published a statement on the Chishima Islands in 1969, has called for the return of the islands as well as Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan. The JCP’s Program states that Japan should “[s]eek to achieve the return to Japan of the Chishima (Kurile) Islands as well as the Habomai Islands and Shikotan Island, which are historically part of Japan.” This is a reasonable claim based on the historical record.

Chishima Islands are part of Japan’s territory

The Chishima Islands stretch from Shumushu Island in the north to Kunashiri Island in the south. The islands were designated as Japan’s territory through the peaceful diplomatic negotiations between Japan and Russia in the latter half of the 19th century (from the late Tokugawa shogunate era to the early Meiji era).

This is clear in the two bilateral treaties which established the border between the two nations.

One is the 1855 Japan-Russia Trade and Friendship Treaty, which fixed the border between Japan and Russia at the straits between Etorofu Island and Uruppu Island, so that Southern Chishima (comprising Etorofu and Kunashiri islands) was incorporated into Japanese territory and Northern Chishima (from Uruppu to Shumushu islands) became Russian territory. Sakhalin (Karafuto) was maintained as a land of mixed habitation where Japanese and Russian people could freely move under the treaty.

The other is the 1875 Sakhalin-Chishima Exchange Treaty, which made the entire chain of the Chishima Islands Japanese territory in exchange for Japan’s renunciation of its right over Sakhalin.

After that, Japan took over the southern half of Sakhalin from Russia as a result of the Russo-Japanese War. However, Japan’s sovereignty over the Chishima Islands did not emerge as an international issue until WW II.

Secret talks at Yalta

In the secret talks between the leaders of the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union in Yalta in February 1945, Stalin demanded that the Chishima Islands be “handed over” to the Soviet Union as a condition for the Soviet participation in the war against Japan. Under the secret Yalta agreement, the U.S. and Britain accepted this demand. It amounted to a violation of “non-territorial expansion,” a major principle of postwar disposition in the 1943 Cairo Declaration and other international agreements.

The secret agreement was carried over to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which states in Article 2, Clause C, “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands”.

Since then, the Japanese government has used this clause as a pretext to repeat its internationally unacceptable argument: Southern Chishima (Kunashiri and Etorofu islands) should be returned to Japan since they are not part of the Chishima Islands. This is a strained interpretation as clearly proved by the remarks made by representatives of the Japanese and U.S. governments to the San Francisco Peace Conference as well as in Diet discussions.

On September 7, 1951, then Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru stated as the Japanese representative to the peace conference, “At the time of the opening of Japan, her ownership of two islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri of the South Kuriles was not questioned at all by the Czarist government.” He also used the phrase, “the islands of Habomai and Shikotan, constituting part of Hokkaido, one of Japan's four main islands.”

Yoshida’s remarks show that Japan’s leader himself publicly acknowledged Etorofu and Kunashiri islands as being part of the Chishima Islands that Japan would renounce.

Yoshida’s counterpart at the San Francisco Peace Conference, John Foster Dulles, made the following statement on September 5, 1951: “Some question has been raised as to whether the geographical name ‘Kurile Islands’ mentioned in article 2 (c) includes the Habomai Islands. It is the view of the United States that it does not.”

This remark, made in response to the Japanese government’s argument that Habomai and Shikotan are not part of the Chishima Islands, shows the U.S. recognition that Chishima includes all the islands except those two. As long as the Japanese government sticks to its interpretation that Southern Chishima is not part of the Chishima Islands, its call for the return of Etorofu and Kunashiri lacks reasonable grounds.

In Diet discussions on the ratification of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (October, November 1951), Foreign Ministry Treaty Bureau Director Nishimura Kumao stated, “We believe that the Treaty recognizes Chishima as including both South and North Chishima.” Kusaba Ryuen, parliamentary vice minister for Foreign Affairs, said, “Considering Kunashiri and Etorofu as part of the Chishima Islands is the most reasonable interpretation, we think.”

In short, the government itself recognized the illogicality of its own argument that Southern Chishima does not belong to Chishima.

The historical process clearly illustrates that the government will not find a reasonable solution to this territorial question as long as it avoids looking into the fundamental problem of the question, the Soviet Union’s lawless annexation, and sticks to the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
- Akahata, November 2, 2010
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