Medvedev's one and only visit makes strong statement

By Wang Chong
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, November 8, 2010
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Russia President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Kunashiri Island, one of a group of Russian-held but Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido, has not only caused shock in Japan but also sparked concern in China who contrasted Japan's resignation on the Northern Territories issue against its toughness in its island dispute with China. Not surprisingly, the United States has officially voiced its support for Japan.

 By Li Wei/

The Northern Territories, or Kuril Islands, mainly refer to the four islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Habomai and Shikotan, which are located between Hokkaido and the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia. Maps and high school geography textbooks published in China display them as belonging to Japan but note them "occupied by Russia." In Maoist times, the Chinese government was firmly supportive of Japan's claims over the islands as part of the support for the Japanese people to fight against Russian revisionism and chauvinism. At that time, the People's Daily would often carry pictures of the Japanese with their head banded in white straps that read "Return Our Northern Territories."

A look at the history of territorial disputes between Russia and Japan shows that both countries uphold a culture that worships power, to the extent that, in reality, they will never flinch even in the face of strong enemies. This is especially true with the issue of territory, where every inch of soil is to be fought for even at the cost of life. This explains why there have been so many twists and turns in this dispute.

Generally speaking, bilateral relations, historical and cultural traditions as well as diplomatic traditions are the determining factors leading to the existing state of affairs. Medvedev's landing is but one of the preemptive moves by Russia from its vantage position. Prior to this, Japanese fishermen had been killed when fishing near the Northern Territories. Yet the Japanese government was unable to do anything about it. At the end of July, Russia began to grant visas to Japanese tourists who wanted to visit the Northern Territories, and Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs could only swallow the insult.

It was exactly out of such a context that Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov dared to say that Medvedev's landing "had nothing to do with Russian-Japanese relations," and that the landing would not affect bilateral relations. The Russian Foreign Minister knew only too well where the Japanese bottom line was, and that Japan would have nothing to do except show its anger. On the other hand, he clearly understood that, for the time being, there was no foundation for the normalization of bilateral relations between Russia and Japan and that, it would not matter too much if it was made a little bit worse.

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