Japanese Territory

March 1, 2011

Northern Territories

Northern Territories Issue

Basic Understanding of the Northern Territories Issue

  • The Northern Territories consist of four islands located off the northeast coast of the Nemuro Peninsula of Hokkaido. They are: Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu. The Northern Territories are not included in the Kurile Islands.
  • Japan discovered and surveyed the Four Northern Islands before the Russians arrived there. By the early 19th century at the latest, Japan had effectively established control over the four islands. In 1855, the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation between Japan and Russia, which was concluded in a completely friendly and peaceful manner, confirmed the already established natural boundaries, drawing the boundary between the islands of Etorofu (the northernmost island of the Northern Territories) and Uruppu. The Four Northern Islands had never been held by foreign countries.
  • However, nearing the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union, in violation of the Neutrality Pact that was still in force between Japan and the Soviet Union, opened the war with Japan. Even after Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, Soviet forces continued its offensive against Japan and occupied all of the Four Northern Islands from 28 August 1945 to 5 September 1945.
  • Subsequently, the Soviet Union unilaterally incorporated the territories under occupation into its own territories without any legal grounds, and by 1949 had forcibly deported all Japanese residents of the Four Northern Islands (approximately 17,000 people).
  • Since that time, return of the Northern Territories has been the ardent wish of the people of Japan, and a deep-rooted movement among the general public for the return of the islands has developed national-wide. With this strong support from the people of Japan, the Government of Japan, under a consistent policy, has persistently called on the Soviet Union, and subsequently the Russian Federation, to conclude a peace treaty between the two countries, contingent on the resolution of the Northern Territories issue.
  • As a result of negotiations to date, both Japan and Russia have agreed to resolve the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands and to conclude a peace treaty, and have continued vigorous negotiations. The Russian side also states that it continues to pursue a solution on the demarcation of an internationally recognized national border that is acceptable to both countries.

Japan's Basic Position

  • The Northern Territories are inherent territories of Japan that continues to be illegally occupied by Russia. The Government of the United States of America has also consistently supported Japan's position.
  • In order to solve this issue and to conclude a peace treaty as soon as possible, Japan has energetically continued negotiations with Russia on the basis of the agreements and documents created by the two sides so far, such as the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956, the Tokyo Declaration of 1993, the Irkutsk Statement of 2001 and the Japan-Russia Action Plan of 2003.
  • Japan's position is that if the attribution of the Northern Territories to Japan is confirmed, Japan is prepared to respond flexibly to the timing and manner of their actual return. In addition, since Japanese citizens who once lived in the Northern Territories were forcibly displaced by Joseph Stalin, Japan is ready to forge a settlement with the Russian government so that the Russian citizens living there will not experience the same tragedy. In other words, after the return of the islands to Japan, Japan intends to respect the rights, interests and wishes of the Russian current residents on the islands.
  • The Japanese government has requested Japanese people not to enter the Northern Territories without using the non-visa visit frameworks until the territorial issue is resolved. Similarly, Japan cannot allow any activities, including economic activities by a third party, which could be regarded as submitting to Russian “jurisdiction,” nor allow any activities carried out under the presumption that Russia has “jurisdiction” in the Northern Territories. Japan is of the policy to take appropriate steps to ensure that this does not happen.

(Reference) History and Current Status of the Negotiations toward the Conclusion of a Japan-Russia Peace Treaty

  • From June 1955 to October 1956, negotiations were held to conclude a peace treaty between Japan and the Soviet Union. However, since there was no prospect for agreement regarding the issue of the Northern Territories, excluding Shikotan and Habomai Islands, on 19 October 1956, the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration was signed in place of a peace treaty, stipulating the termination of the state of war and the resumption of diplomatic relations (this Declaration was ratified by both countries and was registered with the United Nations as an international agreement). In Article 9 of the Declaration, the Soviet Union agreed that after normal diplomatic relations between the two countries had been re-established, the peace treaty negotiations shall be continued and the Soviet Union shall hand over Habomai and Shikotan Islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty.
  • In October 1993, then-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and then-President Boris Yeltsin agreed that the guidelines of negotiations toward resolution would be: (a) based on historical and legal facts; (b) based on documents compiled with the agreement of the two countries; and (c) based on the principles of law and justice. (Tokyo Declaration)
  • In March 2001, then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori visited Irkutsk. Prime Minister Mori and President Vladimir Putin confirmed the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration signed in 1956 as a basic legal document, which sets a starting point for the negotiation process, and in addition confirmed that based on the 1993 Tokyo Declaration, a peace treaty should be concluded by resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Islands. (The Irkutsk Statement)
  • Based on results achieved to date, including the Irkutsk Statement, both Japan and Russia are continuing to engage in vigorous negotiations to find the solution acceptable to both countries.
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