WED March 13, 2013

Flexibility key to resolving Japan’s territorial disputes

At last count, Japan was in severe dispute with every one of its neighbors — Russia, South Korea, North Korea, China and Taiwan. Blame Tokyo’s mishandling of issues if you wish. But blame also the legacy of the region’s immediate postwar history. The dispute with Russia is a good example.

In February 1945, to persuade Moscow to join the still unfinished war against Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States at Yalta promised Moscow it could take Japan’s Kuril Islands as a reward. Moscow gladly seized that reward. And in the 1951 San Francisco peace treaty negotiations the U.S. seemed to confirm that Yalta promise by forcing Japan to renounce all rights, claim and title to the Kurils.

In 1954, Tokyo began to insist that Moscow should at least return Shikotan and the Habomais, islands separate from the Kurils and close to Hokkaido that Soviet troops had also seized at war end. Moscow said yes, but when Tokyo then demanded the return of the two southernmost Kurils islands — Etorofu and Kunashiri also close to Japan — Moscow said no.

In 1956 when Tokyo seemed willing to drop the Etorofu-Kunashiri claim in exchange for a peace treaty and the return of Shikotan and the Habomais, the U.S., which in 1951 had forced Japan to renounce all the Kurils, about-faced and insisted that Tokyo had to maintain its claim to Etorofu and Kunashiri. The resulting stalemate has continued ever since with Tokyo now insisting, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the Kurils to which it signed away its rights in 1951 did not include Etorofu and Kunashiri.

What to do? The first move is to understand that for Moscow to return territory gained in 1945 would create a precedent dangerous for territory it gained in the West. It would need some convincing reason before making such a concession. Tokyo can provide that reason. It should declassify the documentary evidence proving that in 1951 Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida only signed the Kurils away under protest. That protest focused especially on Etorofu and Kunashiri, Japan’s traditional territory. On this basis it would create a more convincing legal basis for a Moscow concession. But that would mean Japan would have to begin to criticize its good friend, the U.S., and cease to blame Moscow for the loss of its territory: a Catch-22.

The dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima islands is even more intractable. Japan has its historical claim, as does South Korea. But Japan’s claim is clouded by its 1910-45 colonial domination of Korea. In 1952, South Korea set out to claim ownership, threatening force if necessary. Japan, unable to respond with force, has relied mainly on calls, ignored by Seoul, for an International Court of Justice ruling.

In the 1951 preparations for the San Francisco peace treaty, the right to ownership was closely debated by the Allies, with the U.S., mainly for Cold War reasons, finally taking a pro-Japan position. But it was unwilling to go further.

Turning to the Senkaku Islands dispute, both Taiwan and Beijing make claims based on history and geography. Japan too has its historical claims but they too are clouded by actions taken before and after its expansionist 1894-95 war against China. In its 1972 and 1978 normalization and peace treaty talks with Beijing, both sides were said to have been willing to shelve the ownership issue for the future. Today Tokyo says it made no such promise. Japan seeming to gain territory by reneging on the gentleman’s agreement has long been a hot issue for the Chinese — all Chinese.

Tokyo makes much of Beijing and Taiwan only beginning to make formal Senkakus claims after oil possibilities were discovered in the late sixties. But the former Nationalist government of China had claims going back to the 1940s. And after 1945 the Senkakus, together with the Okinawa islands, were first under U.S. military control and then U.S. trusteeship until 1972, with Japan having no more than what was called “residual sovereignty.” Formal claims by others had to wait till the end of that trusteeship. And when that end approached, the U.S., reportedly as a result of pressure from Taiwan, promised only to grant Japan administrative control of the Senkakus, with sovereignty left undecided. It maintains that position today.

What to do?

Tokyo’s willingness not to station personnel on the disputed islands suggests it realizes the sovereignty issue exists. It also provides the basis for a solution. If it were to tell Beijing that it is willing to continue the nonstationing of personnel, the situation could be made to seem to return to the “shelving” solution of the 1970s. The gunboats could be safely withdrawn.

The abduction issue with North Korea could also be solved easily by a return to the past, this time to the dramatic 2002 breakthrough in relations when Pyongyang promised to return five abductees in exchange for a Tokyo promise to normalize relations. But rightwing pressures then led Tokyo to go back on that promise, claiming more abductees still remained in North Korea. Whether they exist or not has been disputed and, given the refusal to normalize relations, cannot be confirmed.

This, plus the imposition of so-far ineffective sanctions, has led to the current stalemate. Japan’s anger over the abduction of its citizens is understandable. But it also has some responsibility for the current stalemate.

Conclusion? To a large extent Japan is the victim of past events over which it lacked control. Even the abduction issue has roots in the artificial 1945 division of Korea. With a little more negotiating flexibility it probably could solve most of the disputes. But first it has to be persuaded to restrain its nationalists.

Gregory Clark, a former China and Russian specialist in the Australian diplomatic service, is a commentator on Japanese affairs. A Japanese translation of this article will appear on


 今に至って、日本はいよいよ全ての隣人ときびしい紛争になってしまった。― ロシア、韓国、北朝鮮、中国、そして台湾だ。このことで、東京の対応のまずさを指摘するのはいいとしても、だが同時にこれは、この地域の戦争直後の歴史の遺産にも責任がある。ロシアとの紛争がよい例だ。

 1945年2月、 まだ終結できない対日戦争にモスクワを引き入れるために、英国とアメリカはヤルタで、モスクワが参戦すれば代償としてクリール諸島をやると約束した。モスクワはよろこんでそれを受け入れた。そして1951年、サンフランシスコ平和条約の交渉の中でアメリカは、クリール諸島に対する全ての権利、請求権、所有権を放棄するよう日本に強要したことで、ヤルタでのこの約束を確実なものにしたようだ。

日本は、1954年になると、クリールから離れていて戦争末期には同じようにソ連軍に占領された、北海道に近い2島シコタンとハボマイ列島は少なくともソ連から返されるべきだ、と主張し始めた。モスクワはよしといった。だが次の瞬間、東京が、クリール諸島の最南部にあり、同じように日本に近い2島― エトロフとクナシリ島― も返すべきだと言い出したとき、モスクワはノーといった。


 さてどうするか? まず理解すべきなのは、モスクワにとって、1945年に獲得した領土を返すということは前例になる、つまり彼等が西部に獲得した領土に関して危険な前例になる、ということだ。そのような妥協をするためには、なにか説得力のある理由が必要になるだろう。その理由を、東京は提供できる。東京は文書を公開、つまり1951年に吉田茂首相が、クリール諸島放棄の前に抗議を行った後はじめて、署名したことを示す文書を開示すべきだ。かれの抗議はとくに、日本固有の領土であるエトロフ・クナシリに向けたものだった。この事実をベースにすれば、モスクワに妥協させるための法的基盤がより説得力を持つはずだ。ところがこれをやれば、日本はこの領土問題で、モスクワ批判ではなく、日本のよき友人アメリカを批判の対象としなければならないことになろう。



 尖閣列島紛争に目を向けると、台湾と中国両国が歴史と地理的理由で要求を出している。日本も歴史的理由でそれぞれに対抗要求しているが、それらもまた、1894-95年の中国に対する拡張的戦争の前後に見られる行動によって曇らされている。1972年、78年北京との国交正常化平和条約交渉では、両国側ともに領有権問題の棚上げに前向きだったといわれる。今日では、東京はそんな約束はしていないといっている。日本は紳士協定を反故にして領土を得ようとしている、というのが、中国人― 全中国人― の長い間の熱い議論になっている。






 では、結論は? 今まで日本は、かなりの程度、自分ではどうしようもない過去の出来事の犠牲者だった。拉致問題でさえ、1945年の人為的な朝鮮分割にルーツがある。いまもう一歩踏み出して交渉しようという柔軟性を発揮することで、日本はこれらの紛争の大半を解決に導く可能性がある。ただ、まずは、ナショナリストたちをおさえこむと決めないことには、ことは進むまい。