A protest rally was held in Tokyo demanding that Russia return the Japanese islands and get out of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, January 7, on the Day of the Northern Territories, the Japanese government and activists held a rally at which they again demanded that Russia return the “illegally occupied” islands off the coast of Hokkaido, which in the Russian Federation are called the South Kuriles. Tokyo used this term for the first time in five years.
In particular, the activists gathered near the Russian embassy. Their main goal was to demonstrate the inviolability of Tokyo’s position to return the islands of the Kuril chain – Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islands – to the sovereignty of Japan.
The phrase “illegal occupation”
“It is completely unacceptable that the northern territories have not yet been returned after their illegal occupation by the Soviet Union 77 years ago,” the statement said at the event.
According to the country’s independent news agency Kyodo Tsushin, the phrase “occupied territories” was used by Tokyo for the first time in five years amid a deterioration in bilateral relations due to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also called for the return of the Russian-held islands at the rally.
Russian media reported that protesters near the Russian embassy in Tokyo shouted in Japanese and Russian “Get out of the northern territories!”, “Give back our islands!”. Also, according to them, in addition to Japanese flags, Ukrainian flags were installed on the cars of the protesters.
“Get out of Ukraine,” the protesters also chanted through the loudspeakers.
“Difficult” relations with the Russian Federation
After Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, Japan imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation. This has prompted Moscow since last March to suspend peace talks and bilateral visa-free exchange programs, including one that allows former Japanese residents to visit the graves of their ancestors in the Kuril Islands.
Today, the Japanese Prime Minister nevertheless expressed hope for the resumption of such an exchange between the two countries, calling this goal “one of the main priorities” in Japanese-Russian relations.
He also said that the government maintains its position that it will seek “to resolve the territorial issue with Russia and sign a peace treaty, despite the current difficult state of bilateral relations.”
After the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Japanese government decided to call the southern Kuril Islands “Japan’s original territory under illegal occupation.”
Japan lays claim to the four southern islands of the Kuril chain, Iturup, Shikotan, Kunashir and Habomai. At the end of World War II, they were annexed by the Soviet Union, and the Japanese were evicted from them.
In 1956, the authorities of Japan and the USSR concluded a declaration stating that Moscow agreed to consider the possibility of transferring two islands to Tokyo (Shikotan and Habomai, one of them does not even live people) after the conclusion of a peace treaty.
However, then Japan began to insist on the return of all the islands to it, which is why a peace treaty between the countries has not yet been concluded. Negotiations for a peace treaty have been unsuccessful for decades.
Until 2003, Japanese diplomacy officially called the islands “illegally occupied”, and until 2012 – “ancestral lands”. From 2012 until 2021, the government avoided such language, hoping to reach a compromise with Russia.
In 2021, the new Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, during a debate in parliament, said that Tokyo’s sovereignty extends to the southern part of the Kuril Islands.
In April 2022, after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi called these territories “originally Japanese” in a speech in parliament. Then, at a separate press conference, he stated that they were “illegally occupied.” Moscow canceled the visa-free regime for the Japanese entering the Kuril Islands, and also withdrew from negotiations on a peace treaty with Japan and a dialogue on joint economic activities in the Kuril Islands.
A few days later, Russia held military exercises in the Kuriles. Japanese media reported that the drills were held in territory claimed by Tokyo. After that, the conflict between the Russian Federation and Japan “cooled” until today.
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