News Analysis: Russia, Japan eye cooperation on disputed islands despite conflicting claims

08:51, February 12, 2011      

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Russian and Japanese foreign ministers said Friday that their countries are keen to boost cooperation, even on the Pacific island chain claimed by both sides.

"Russia and Japan could consider business cooperation on the islands at a high level, if no harm is done to Japan's position from the point of view of the law," Japan's Seiji Maehara said during a visit here, while stressing that the islands are Japan's historic territories

Russia, for its part, may let the Japanese side participate more actively in developing the islands, Professor Yakov Berger of the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Xinhua.

"Russia perhaps will even go as far as to declare the islands a special economic zone, or to make them more accessible for Japanese business," he added.

However, no signs were indicating that the dispute over the sovereignty over the four Pacific islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, was to end soon.

"Tokyo must have no illusion that economic cooperation is a means to sneak into these territories politically," the professor said.

He stressed that even though Russia may try to integrate the Southern Kurils into regional and international cooperation systems, Moscow will always treat the islands' future as "internal business."

GEOPOLITICALLY SENSITIVE REGION

The Kuril Islands, including the disputed Southern Kuril islands, are a "very sensitive" region for Russia, especially in terms of their geopolitical significance, Berger said.

"Moscow tries to make it 100 percent clear for Tokyo that the Kurils are Russian territory, and Japan ought to abandon any expectation that Moscow will ever change its position," he said.

Berger noted that after a period "when Moscow nearly has forgotten the existence of the Kurils," Russia is paying more and more attention to the strategic area.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in November suddenly visited one of the four disputed isles, becoming the first Russian leader to travel there.He also stressed the importance of developing the region.

In February, Medvedev again called on officials to keep visiting the Southern Kuril islands and vowed to boost development in this remote region.

On Wednesday, Medvedev even ordered the deployment of sufficient weaponry to secure the disputed islands.

Source: Xinhua

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