Japan continues diplomatic ties despite dispute over Kurils

Japan’s ambassador to Russia has returned to his post in Moscow in the wake of heightened tension over the Kuril Islands.

Masaharu Kono had been recalled to Tokyo as a response to President Medvedev’s visit to the southernmost of the disputed islands Kunashir, a move the country’s premier, Naoto Kan, labeled as “very regrettable.” The Kuril Islands have been the focal point of an ongoing territorial dispute since the end of WWII, with both countries claiming sovereignty. While the latest developments have proven a strain on Japanese-Russian relations, Kono’s return to Moscow signals that, as of yet, diplomatic ties have not been severed. An official from the Japanese embassy in Moscow told Interfax news agency that, "The ambassador has returned to Moscow and is fulfilling his duties."

Medvedev’s visit to the Kurils, and more so Japan’s response, has drawn a flurry of reaction from officials within the Russian government. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “Japan's reaction is unacceptable. It is our land. The Russian president visited Russian lands.”

Similar sentiment has been echoed in the Russian State Duma. Interfax reports that Federation Council Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova commented that it is Medvedev’s duty to make such visits. "The Kuril Islands are part of these regions as well. These islands are a very important segment of Russia's development in the Far East. There is no room for any hysterics regarding Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the Kuril Islands," Orlova said. Another member of the Duma, Valentina Petrenko took things a step further, suggesting Japan has taken an unfriendly stance towards Russia. "Our country has every right to be called a superpower. Japan will not be able to promote relations with Russia if it [Japan] keeps insisting that these disputed islands belong to it," she said.

Russia is not the only country facing a territorial dispute with Japan. Currently Japan is seeking clarity over Liancourt Rocks with South Korea as well as with China and the Senkaku Islands. According to one poll, the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan’s popularity numbers are believed to have fallen as much as ten points due to the country’s inability to “repatriate Japanese territory.” On Monday, in an address to the Japanese parliament, the premier reaffirmed his commitment to regaining control of the islands. “This is not a problem that may be solved in one round of talks or in one meeting. I intend to draw up a strategy and make a fierce effort to get [the islands] back," he said.

Despite the tense circumstances surrounding the Kuril Islands, Japan is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum in Yokohama on November 13-14, an event President Medvedev is planning to attend. Though the territorial status of the Kuril Islands is not expected to alter the agenda of the APEC meetings, it is expected for both countries to use the opportunity to meet on the sidelines and discuss the issue. In a press conference on Monday, presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich addressed this topic. "The territorial problem is always raised at such meetings, and I think that the upcoming meeting will be no exception," Dvorkovich said.

­Sean Thomas, RT