Partizipative Projekte aus dem Bereich der Japanologie

15. January 2023 von Rabia Deveci

Ukraine war prolongs conflict over the Kuril Islands – No peace treaty between Japan and Russia

Although 77 years have passed since the end of the Second World War, Japan and Russia have not yet signed a peace treaty. One of the reasons is the territorial dispute between the two countries over the Kuril Islands, located between the northern coast of Japan and the southern coast of Russia. In my research, I conducted a discourse analysis of the coverage in the Asahi Shinbun (Japanese daily newspaper) of the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands since the start of the war in Ukraine. After Russia declared war on Ukraine on 23 February 2022, Japan decided to join the US and the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia. On 21 March 2022, in response to these sanctions, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that peace negotiations would be halted.

The Kuril Islands are a chain of islands located between the northern border of Japan and the southeastern border of Russia. The first official border agreed upon by both countries was established by the Treaty of Shimoda, in 1855. This border was between the islands of Etorofu and Urup. According to this division, the four southern Kuril Islands of Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri, and Etorofu fell under Japanese territory. As this demarcation is the first officially documented border between the two countries, the four islands are considered Japanese territory by the Japanese government.

Currently, however, the four islands and the entire island chain are in Russian possession. The Japanese government calls this occupation illegal because Russia began to conquer the islands in 1945 – despite the neutrality pact between the two countries and the ban on conquests of land in the Atlantic Charter of 1941, which Russia also acknowledged. Subsequently, the Kuril Islands were incorporated into Russian territory in 1946. The territorial dispute, in which Japan claims its territory, developed as a result of these events and is also an important factor in why both countries have yet to sign a peace treaty.

My research objective was to determine how the territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands was reported in the Asahi Shinbun, that is which actors appeared, and which themes and arguments were used. Another important aspect was to determine whether the war in Ukraine played a role in this. According to the research results I was able to find out that the war in Ukraine did, in fact, play a role. With the start of the war in Ukraine, Japan decided to cooperate with the US and the EU and impose sanctions on Russia. This cooperation is an important goal of the current Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. However, in response to these sanctions, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 21 March 2022 that it would no longer pursue peace negotiations with Japan. This triggered a wave of disappointment in the Japanese government, but also among the population.

The voice of one group, in particular, stands out. Namely that of the former islanders who once lived on the Kuril Islands and were expelled from their homeland. Their suffering is especially great because, in addition to suspending the peace negotiations, the Russian government has also revoked the visa exemption that they had achieved with tremendous efforts after a long fight. The visa exemption allowed them to visit the islands. In particular, visiting the graves of their ancestors is of great importance to them, which is why they have appealed to the Japanese government to seek a solution. Unfortunately, most of the former islanders are of advanced age, so many are concerned about not being able to visit the islands anymore before they die. For this reason, the pressure on the Japanese government is particularly high at the moment.

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