Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Claim and counter-claim in the Kuril Islands dispute
Title to the southern islands of the Kuril chain in the Pacific Ocean is disputed by Japan and Russia. The Japanese refer to the islands as the Northern Territories while the Russians do so to the Southern Kurils. In 1855 Japan and the Russian Empire signed the Shimoda Treaty (see esp. Article II). Through its provisions Japan took the title to the four southern islands, and Russia to the chain of islands to the north and east. The chain’s southern islands were seized from Japan by the Soviet Union (the successor to the Russian Empire) in August 1945, and declared part of the Soviet Union in 1946. By 1949 all of the Japanese residents had been deported to Japan.
Although the problem of the Kurils was only one of a number of reasons behind the Soviet Union’s refusal to sign the San Francisco Treaty which ended the Second World War between the Allies and Japan, it was nonetheless an important factor. One provision of the treaty was that Japan would renounce ‘all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands’, but no beneficiary of the renunciation was stipulated in the treaty. As the Soviets never signed the treaty, Japanese governments have never recognised the four islands as the territory of the Soviet Union or, subsequently, the Russian Federation. Moreover, the default position of Japanese governments has been that the Soviet occupation of the territory that occurred just prior to Japan's surrender in 1945 was an act of illegal aggression. From this point stems the conviction that the de facto Soviet/Russian sovereignty that has been exercised subsequently has depended upon this illegality.
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