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Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010


Japan-Russia ties pinched

Apparently taking advantage of the recent Japan-China spat over the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appears to be trying to put pressure on Japan in the bilateral dispute over the sovereignty of four islands east of Hokkaido aka the Northern Territories.

He visited Beijing on Sept. 26-28, shortly after Japan released, under China's pressure, a Chinese fishing boat captain following collision incidents in Japanese territorial waters near the Senkakus. He and Chinese President Hu Jintao not only agreed to upgrade the Russia-China "strategic partnership of cooperation" but also issued a joint statement on the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Both leaders, without mentioning Japan, said the Chinese and Russian people suffered major attacks from fascism and militarism and condemned "attempts" to falsify the war's history. In July, Mr. Medvedev signed into law a bill designating Sept. 2, the date in 1945 that Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers, as the memorial day for the end of World War II.

After his Beijing visit, Mr. Medvedev had apparently planned to be the first Russian leader to visit the Northern Territories. On Sept. 28, Sakhalin media reported that his visit to the area was canceled due to bad weather. But the next day, he said in Kamchatka that he will visit there in the near future without fail.

In a logical move the same day, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned the Russian ambassador to Japan Mikhail Bely and said that Mr. Medvedev's visit to the Northern Territories would "place a serious obstacle" to Japan-Russia ties and that the joint statement is beyond understanding.

Mr. Medvedev may be somewhat obsessed with the next Russian presidential election in 2012. Or his move may be broadly based on his confidence that Russia has almost recovered from the shambles brought about by the Soviet communist empire's collapse in 1991 and his view that the power of the United States, Japan's key ally, is on the wane. Japan must reconstruct a strategy that helps develop trustful Japan-Russia relations but does not compromise Japan's fundamental principles against expansionism.

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