Russia and Japan may be renewing their face-off over a chain of islands which have been in dispute for some time now.
The face-off between Russia and Japan follows claim by the latter’s new prime minister that Japan’s sovereignty extends to the archipelago that separates the Sea of Okhotsk and Pacific Ocean.
Russia’s Kremlin denounced Tokyo’s assertion that these four southernmost islands belong to Japan.
The disputed islands of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai lie at their closest point just a few kilometres off the north coast of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands.
Addressing Japan’s Parliament on Tuesday, PM Fumio Kishida laid claim to the four, which are known by Tokyo as the Northern Territories.
“Our country’s sovereignty covers the Northern Territories,” Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Kishida as saying.
“We must solve this issue and not leave it to future generations. The government intends to sign a peace treaty with Russia, resolving the issue of these islands’ sovereignty,” Kishida said. His remarks drew swift censure from Moscow.
The four disputed islands, were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, and thus came under Russian administration as the South Kuril District of the Sakhalin Oblast
On the other hand, they are claimed by Japan, which refers to them as its Northern Territories or Southern Chishima.
Tokoy considers the islands as part of the Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture.
The southernmost islet in the Habomai group lies only a few kilometres off Nemuro on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, reports the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and because of the dispute, Russia and Japan have not yet signed a peace treaty to end World War II.
Japanese people migrated north to the islands in the 18th and 19th century, including members of Hokkaido’s minority Ainu community.
Communities developed on three of the islands and by the time World War II began, there were 17,000 Japanese residents.
Russia took control of the islands at the end of the war, and by 1949 it had deported all residents to Japan.
Under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the Allies and Japan, Japan renounced “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands”, as well as over other possessions.
But this resolved nothing, because Russia did not sign the treaty and the Japanese government has never recognised the four islands as part of the Kuril chain.