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Fishing boat incident epitomizes Russian-Japanese ties
Latest Updated by 2006-08-22 08:40:26
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Russian border guards fired on a Japanese fishing boat and seized it near Russia's Tanfilyev Island of the disputed South Kuril Chain (or Northern Territories called by Japan) Wednesday morning, resulting in the death of one of the four fishermen on board. A Japanese Foreign Ministry official has handed a protest letter to the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, demanding the immediate body handover and seeking release of the other three detained fishermen and meting out penalty to the Russians involved as a warning, which the Russian side flatly rejected.

The fishing vessel incident has obviously been turned into a diplomatic conflict between Russia and Japan, and the unyielding positions of both sides epitomize and reflect on the current situation in Russian-Japanese relations.

The fishing boat incident is by no means accidental. Relevant statistics show that Russian border guards have, since 1994, intercepted more than 30 Japanese fishing boats that transgressed border lines, detained over 200 people, seven of whom were wounded by gun firing shots of the Russian side. The most serious incident occurred in October 1994, when a Japanese fishing boat was hit and sunk.

Since Russia became independent in 1989, its relations with Japan have not truly been normalized, as the two sides have not signed any peace accords between them, and the fundamental reason leading to the deadlock in bilateral ties was the lack of concessions on the territory issue.

When Russia suffered grave economic difficulties in its early post-independence day, Japan once proposed in the G-7 of the West providing economic aid to Russia on the condition of returning its Northern Territories, which caused dissatisfaction to the government of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin then. Bilateral relations remained cold throughout 1990s, due to Japan's persistence to the principle of "the indivisibility of economy from politics" and the "expanded equilibrium". In other words, Japan would not develop its economic, cooperative relations with Russian, if Russia did not return to it Northern Territories. Despite Russia's willingness to two of the South Kuril Islands in compliance with the spirit of the "Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration" issued in 1956, Japan insisted on the return of all the Northern Territories.

Japan kept up a frequent, high-level exchange of visits with Russia from the second half of 2002 to win over its effort to lay Taishet-Nakhodlka pipeline. But President Vladimir Putin said his country did not have commitment of providing oil to Japan after Russia decided in April 2004 first to build the oil pipeline leading to China.

The foreign policy of the Japanese government in recent years has aroused Russia's dissatisfaction and antipathy. On one hand, Japan, capitalizing on the Iraq War, dispatched troops overseas in an attempt to revise its constitution of peace and, on the other, it, counting on its alliance with the United States, rapidly developed and deployed regional missile defense system, seriously hampering the improvement of Russian-Japanese ties.

In view of the present situation, the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan is unlikely to be resolved within a short period. In June 2006, the Russian State Duma (or parliament) adopted a legal document to beef up the defense of the country's marine resources, and so it is impossible for Russia to make any concessions in this regard.

Without the proper settlement of the territory issue, it is hard to avoid fishing boat intrusion issue and, with the occasional occurrence of such issues, shadows will be cast on the strained Russian-Japanese relations, and this is sure to add difficulties to the settlement of territorial disputes between the two countries.

Editor: Yan

By: Source: People's Daily website
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