Fumio Kishida Expresses Determination to Resolve Northern Territories Issue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Protesters including former residents of the islands in the northern territories call for the return of the territories on Tuesday at Hokkaido’s Rausu Kunashiri Observation Tower, from which Kunashiri is visible.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has expressed determination to negotiate the return of the northern territories amid a standstill in diplomacy with Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The Japan-Russia relationship is in a difficult situation, but we stand firm in our policy to resolve the territorial issue and conclude a peace treaty,” Kishida said at a rally in Tokyo on Tuesday at which participants called for the return of the northern territories.

The prime minister said it is “truly regrettable” that the territorial issue has not been resolved. “It is essential for the government and the people to work together as one,” he stressed.

About 1,000 people attended the rally, including former residents of islands in the northern territories.

Participants adopted a document stating, “We strongly demand the resumption of negotiations.” It also contained the words “illegal occupation” for the first time in five years.

Compared to the United States and Europe, Japan has avoided taking a hard-line stance against Russia since the second administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, bearing in mind negotiations on the northern territories.

However, Kishida reversed course after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he has called “an outrage that shakes the very foundations of the international order.” Japan has since imposed a series of sanctions on Russia.

Russia announced the suspension of peace treaty negotiations as a retaliatory measure. It also suspended visa-free exchanges between Russians living in the northern territories and Japanese nationals, and withdrew from talks on joint economic activities.

The government has positioned the resumption of exchange programs, including visits to graves by former residents, as “one of the top priorities for Japan-Russia relations in the future,” Kishida said, in consideration of the advanced ages of the former residents.

“I strongly hope the exchanges will be resumed as soon as possible,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference Tuesday.

However, as Japan is chairing the Group of Seven nations this year, it is expected to play a leading role in imposing sanctions against Russia, making it difficult to find a way to resume the exchanges.