A summit meeting between Japan and Russia took place on January 22. At the press conference following the meeting, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin emphasized that they are aiming for a mutually acceptable solution regarding the territorial issue and intend to further deepen cooperative relations between the two countries, mainly in economic areas.
Since Prime Minister Abe announced at the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting held in Singapore on November 14, 2018 that he had reached an agreement with President Putin to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on the Japanese-Soviet Joint Declaration signed in 1956, the two leaders have met in three straight months and have accelerated negotiations on a peace treaty as indicated in the Prime Minister’s comments. This column looks back at previous negotiations between Japan and Russia and addresses a few points regarding how negotiations might proceed.
1 Background to the territorial problem
The primary reason that Japan and Russia have not concluded a peace treaty more than 70 years after the war ended is the lack of a solution to the territorial problem between the two countries. Let’s start by briefly reviewing the background of the territorial problem between Japan and Russia.
The Soviet Union’s entry into the fight against Japan at the end of the Second World War was the primary cause of the territorial problem between Japan and Russia. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union concluded the Yalta Conference Agreement in February 1945 as the outcome of combat on the European front was becoming evident, and the Soviet Union agreed to enter the battle against Japan within 2-3 months after Germany’s defeat on the condition that it acquire the southern half of Sakhalin, which was lost in the Russo-Japanese War, and the Kuril Islands (the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and Russia in 1855 put the national boundary for Japan and Russia between Etorofu and Uruppu islands and the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (Karafuto-Chishima Exchange Treaty) in 1875 gave all of the Kurils through northernmost Shumshu island to Japan). Additionally, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union met in Potsdam in July 1945 and issued the Potsdam Declaration signed by the US, the UK, and the Republic of China (the Soviet Union signed the the Declaration on August 8, 1945) that called on Japan to surrender. However, since Japan did not respond to the Potsdam Declaration, the Soviet Union ignored the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact, which was still valid at that time, and declared war against Japan. It started attacking Manchuria and the Kuril Islands on August 9. The Soviet Union continued its attack even after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and occupied the Kuril Islands, including the four islands just north of Hokkaido between August 28 and September 5. It absorbed these islands as its own territory in February 1946. These events led to the Northern Territories problem that continues to the present.
NOTE: This paper has been published in the Japan Institute of International Affairs. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the Author.