Rumored island development deal roils Japan

08:27, February 17, 2011      

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Japan's NHK TV reported Tuesday that a Dalian-based Chinese aquaculture company had signed a memorandum with a Russian company to breed sea cucumbers off one of the Kuril Islands. Photo: Google

Outrage blared across Japanese airways Wednesday over a report that companies from China and Russia had reached an agreement to explore an island chain that is under the control of Moscow but also claimed by Tokyo.

Citing an unnamed Russian businessperson, Japan's NHK TV reported Tuesday that a Dalian-based Chinese aquaculture company had signed a memorandum with a Russian company to breed sea cucumbers off one of the Kuril Islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories.

The report did not mention the names of those companies involved.

"It is my understanding that the report has not been confirmed, but if it is true, that's incompatible with our country's position," Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was quoted by Mainichi Daily newspaper as saying.

When asked about the report Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said he was unaware of the deal, stressing instead that the islands are a bilateral issue between Russia and Japan.

The Kurils, which lie just north of Japan's Hokkaido island, have been controlled by Moscow since being seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

Disputes intensified after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited one of the four islands in November.

Since then, various key Russian ministers and government officials have made trips there, despite repeated protests from Japan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Japanese counterpart, Seji Maehara, in Moscow on Friday to talk about the crisis over the four Pacific islands, but the meeting ended up fruitlessly as Moscow reaffirmed its claim to the area, AFP reported.

According to the Moscow News, Lavrov said after the meeting that Russia welcomes foreign investment from countries such as China, South Korea and Japan to develop the islands.

Tokyo has been reluctant to take up the offer, the Japan Times reported, adding that such action would be tantamount to accepting Russian sovereignty.

Zhang Zhaozhong, a professor at the Chinese National Defense University, told China's Central Television earlier this month that co-exploring the Kurils would be a great economic opportunity for both Beijing and Seoul.

By Li Zhen in Tokyo and Huang Jingjing in Beijing, Global Times

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