Russia’s president visited an island in the Pacific Ocean claimed by both Russia and Japan,triggering immediate protests from Tokyo,which is already involved in a heated dispute with China over islands to the south.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry said President Dmitry Medvedev landed on Kunashiri Island,just off Japan’s northern coast. The island,known in Russian as Kunashir,is part of a group of four claimed by both countries that Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia calls the southern Kurils.
Medvedev is the first Russian president to visit the island.
“We have never changed our position that the Northern Territories are a part of our territory and the visit is very regrettable,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan told a session of Parliament on on Monday.
Part of a larger chain of Russian-held islands,the disputed islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and are believed to have promising offshore oil and natural gas reserves,plus gold and silver deposits.
The islands,which have been under Russian control since the waning days of World War II have suffered neglect and the population has plummeted since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile,Former Japanese residents of the Kunashiri Island expressed anger at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to the island seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II,and also voiced discontent towards the Japanese government for its inability to resolve the long-standing dispute.
“My hometown has been stolen for 65 years. It’s offensive,” said 80-year-old Sadao Deguchi,who lived on the island off Hokkaido until he was 15.
When World War II was over,a total of 17,300 Japanese were living on the islands of Etorofu,Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islet group. But the surviving former islanders now total some 7,800,with their average age 77.
Hidezo Ikeda,77,also from Kunashiri,said he believes Medvedev made the visit to impress voters ahead of the next presidential election in 2012.
Ikeda said he is “angered more by the weakness of the Japanese diplomacy.”
Ryoichi Miyauchi,67,who is an executive of a group of former Japanese residents of the islands seeking their return,said the visit was intended to “show off Russian control” of the islands,called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.
“I think the situation is critical. This will adversely affect bilateral negotiations,” over the islands,he said.
Hirotoshi Kawata,76,who is from the Habomai islet group,said,”My feeling is stronger than regrettable. The Japanese government should protest properly and take a clear stand in the international arena.”
Tokyo summons Russian ambassador over Medvedev visit
Tokyo summoned Moscow’s ambassador on Monday to protest Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to a disputed islet in the Kuril Islands,which the Japanese government condemned as “very regrettable”.
“As Japan has kept its position that the four northern islands belong to Japanese territory,the president’s visit there is very regrettable,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan told Parliament.
Medvedev arrived at Kunashiri island in the southern Kurils today,spending a few hours there before leaving.
The Kuril Islands,which lie north of Japan’s Hokkaido island,have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II,but Tokyo claims the southernmost four as Japanese territory.
Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned Russia’s ambassador to Japan,Mikhail Bely,to protest over the visit,Kan said.
But Bely said afterwards that he “told him (Maehara) that it is Russia’s domestic issue. I requested Japan to deal with it cool-headedly and in a balanced manner,” he told reporters,according to Jiji Press.
Maehara had said earlier Monday the visit “hurts Japanese public sentiment and is extremely regrettable”.
The dispute is another headache for Kan,whose government has for weeks been embroiled in Japan’s worst diplomatic spat for years with China,over disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Voter support for Kan’s government dropped by 31 points in October from the previous month in the wake of the row,according to a poll by the business daily Nikkei.
Kan has come under criticism in Japan for his handling of the dispute with Beijing,which was triggered by a ship collision in disputed waters in early September.
After prosecutors freed a Chinese sea captain without indicting him,many in Japan accused Tokyo of capitulating under pressure from Beijing.