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Seeking the earliest possible return of the Northern Territories Interview with Acting Chairperson of the LDP's Special Mission Committee on Territories Hiroshi Imazu

September 3, 2014

The Party has designated September 3 as the "Day of Protest against the Illegal Occupation of the Northern Territories by Russia" and marks this day as an opportunity to conduct campaigns seeking return of the territory and other educational activities to increase public awareness of the issues.


It has been 69 years since Russia illegally occupied the Northern Territories. The former residents of the islands are growing older, with an average age in excess of 79. We spoke about the issue with Hiroshi Imazu, a member of the Diet from this area who has long been involved in the Northern Territories dispute and serves as the Acting Chairperson of Special Mission Committee on Territories.


Q: What will be the impact of the situation in Ukraine on negotiations for return?


Acting Chairperson of Special Mission Committee on Territories Hiroshi Imazu: Japan operates on the principles of law and justice, and we cannot allow national borders to be changed by force. I think we will have no choice but to impose economic sanctions.


However, we also have the Northern Territories dispute with Russia and must therefore engage in our own, independent diplomacy.


There are some who are concerned about the impact that events in Ukraine will have on negotiations for return, but since he took office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held five summits with President Putin making every effort to reach a mutual understanding. As a party, I think we need to support Prime Minister Abe's diplomatic efforts.


Q: Nonetheless, on August 12, Russia went ahead with military exercises in the Northern Territories.


Imazu: Japan's legal position is clear. We cannot, under any circumstances, allow this.


The Committee immediately held joint meetings with relevant LDP bodies to discuss our response going forward. We put together a resolution of protest and submitted it to the government.


Q: What has the Committee done so far on the Northern Territories dispute?


Imazu: We have held two training sessions for new members elected in the previous general election and House of Councillors election, and have also exchanged opinions with former residents of the territory and people in the fishing industry.


In Rausu-cho, which is just across the Nemuro Straits from Kunashiri Island, we were informed about the serious damage that overfishing by Russian trawlers has done to the local fishing industry. I think all of the Diet members who participated in these discussions came to understand the complexity of the dispute. We plan to continue to hold training sessions.


We have also formulated recommendations that include stepping up communication to the international community about territorial issues through NHK's international broadcasting networks. To educate the public in Japan, we have produced a map that clearly delineates Japan's territory and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and distributed it to Diet members within the Party.


Q: I understand you visited Kunashiri Island and Etorofu Island. What was it like there?


Imazu: I visited both islands last September as part of the Visa-free Exchanges for Four Northern Territory Islands. I observed the airport construction and the fish processing plant on Etorofu Island, and my impression is that it is rapidly being Russified.


The signs that Japanese people ever lived there are disappearing. I saw the former Shana Post Office. It is crumbling, and the painful reality is that we Japanese cannot fix it.


Japan and Russia will never have truly friendly relations without the return of the Northern Territories. The Committee understands the importance of its mission and responsibility, and will do everything possible to seek the territory's return.

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