Abe Pledges to Settle Russia Territorial Spat During His Term

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to settle a dispute with Russia over islands seized at the end of World War II, a move that would free him up to seek resolution of a more divisive territorial spat with China.

The area at the center of the disagreement with Russia consists of four islands near Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido taken over by the then-Soviet Union at the end of the war. Japan, an archipelago made up of more than 3,000 islands, is involved in a separate dispute with South Korea over territory in the sea almost equidistant between the two countries.

“I am determined to resolve this problem somehow while I am prime minister and we will hold another summit at the G8 meeting in Sochi and then President Putin will come to Japan in the autumn,” Abe told parliament today in Tokyo. “I want to put all possible efforts into resolving the problem.”

Abe and Putin have met five time since he took office in December 2012, seeking to boost business and security ties even as they wrangle over rights to the islands. Abe has not held summits with China or South Korea, partly due to the bitterness of their conflicting territorial claims. Chinese and Japanese warships regularly tail each other around their disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Declaration of War

At the end of the war in the Pacific in 1945, the Soviet Union renounced a neutrality treaty it had signed with Japan in 1941 and in August, declared war on Japan. By early September, the Soviet Union took control of the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai and deported thousands of Japanese residents over the next few years, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Differences over the islands proved the stumbling block to Japan and the Soviet Union signing a permanent peace treaty after negotiations in 1956. The two sides signed a joint declaration reestablishing diplomatic relations and agreed to continue talks on the islands. There have been bilateral talks on the issue under Abe, though little progress has been made on resolving the dispute.

Abe last week attended an annual rally to demand the return of the islands known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. At the rally, Abe said that it was “not normal” that the two sides have failed to sign a peace treaty 68 years after the war because of the dispute.

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