Japanese territorial dispute flares up – again

The Kuril Islands. Image courtesy of the Kremlin.

A territorial dispute stretching as far back as World War II between Russia and Japan has flared up once again.

Both countries have laid claim to the Kuril Islands for more than 70 years, but tensions over the Pacific island chain have reared their head following Russian military deployment in February.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Tuesday that Tokyo had asked Russia to reduce its military activity on the islands, according to Reuters. The comments come after Moscow sent warplanes to one of the islands last February in response to what it sees as a potential Japanese threat.

Russia has also deployed its newest missile defense systems to the islands and plans to build a naval base there. “We have asked the Russian side to take particular measures because Russia is building up its military potential on the four northern islands,” Onodera said.

Japan’s decision to establish two Aegis Ashore systems to strengthen the nation’s ballistic missile defense capabilities drew heavy condemnation from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February.

“[T]he adoption of a decision to purchase and deploy these systems should be viewed as disproportionate to the real missile threats in the region,” declared Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova in late August 2017, adding that they “may undermine strategic stability in the northern part of the Pacific.”

The Kuril Islands are formed by a volcanic archipelago that stretches approximately 1,300 kilometers northeast from Hokkaido in Japan to Kamchatka in Russia.

The islands were annexed by the Soviet Union in aftermath of the Kuril Islands landing operation at the end of World War II.

The islands are claimed by Japan however, where they are referred to as Northern Territories. The dispute is so contentious that officially Moscow and Tokyo are yet to sign a peace treaty to mark the end of World War II.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the Allies and Japan in 1951, states that Japan must give up “all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands”, but also does not recognize the Soviet Union’s sovereignty over them.

President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. The pair last met at the same event in 2017.

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