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My Solution of the Kuril Islands Problem

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    Discusses the dispute between Russia and Japan over the Problem of the Kuril Islands.

  Published in Bewildering Stories http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue346/kuril_islands1.html

   The impetus for this short essay was the bill adopted by the Japanese Parliament on July 3 2009 that declared that the Kuril Islands "have always been Japanese territory".
   This decision raised strong objections on the Russian side.
  -- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that characterized the decision of the Japanese Parliament as "inappropriate and unacceptable".
  -- The Russian parliament declared the peace treaty talks with Japan "pointless".
  -- The Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, has asked President Dmitry Medvedev to consider declaring a moratorium on visa-free exchange between Russians living on the islands and the Japanese, which started in 1992.
  -- Head of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov in his turn told Japanese daily newspaper Asahi that "the islands will never be Japan's territory."
  -- On July 9, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso during their meeting in L'Aquila on the sidelines of the G8 summit that the Japanese parliament's decision on the Kuril Islands "did not foster an atmosphere of trust."
  -- About 750 residents of the Far Eastern city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk protested on Friday against Japan's claim to four disputed Pacific islands. "The islands were, are and will be ours," said Yuri Andreyev, acting chairman of the city's council of WWII veterans.
   We witness tension of relations between the two countries. The aim of this essay is to suggest a solution to the problem of the Kuril Islands that, as I hope, will be acceptable both for the Russians and the Japanese.
   Some Facts from History
   The Kuril Islands comprise 56 islands in total and many more minor rocks that stretch from Russian Kamchatka Peninsula to Japanese Hokkaido Island. The map taken from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_of_Okhotsk_map.png shows the geographical position of the Islands. This position is of strategic importance: the owner of the Kuril Islands and the Sakhalin Island can fully control the Sea of Okhotsk that washes the Russian continental coast. Apart from that the Islands themselves and the Sea of Okhotsk are rich in natural resources. Hence the long lasting dispute between Russia and Japan.
  The Islands [Wikipedia]
   The first confrontation between them took place in as early as 1811 when Russian Captain Vasily Golovnin and his crew, who stopped at Kunashir during their hydrographic survey, were captured by the samurais. Because a Japanese trader, Takadaya Kahei, was also captured by a Russian vessel near Kunashir, Japan and Russia entered into negotiations to establish the border between the two countries.
   The Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation was concluded in 1855, and the border was established between Iturup and Urup. This border confirmed that Japanese territory stretched south from Iturup and Russian territory stretched north of Urup. Sakhalin remained a place where people from both countries could live. The Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1875 resulted in Japan relinquishing all rights over Sakhalin in exchange for Russia ceding all of the Kuril Islands north of Urup to Japan.
   The situation drastically changed during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 when Russian armies and fleet we completely defeated in the battles of Mukden and Zusima. In accordance with the Treaty of Portsmouth Russia ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan in addition to the Kuril Islands that the latter already had.
   Retreat of the Russian Army after the Battle of Mukden (taken from Wikipedia)
   The disgraceful results of the war shocked Russian society and were one of the causes of the First Revolution of 1905 during which thousands of people were shot and hanged by the Czar Nicolas II troops. Having failed to stand against the foreign enemy the Czar succeeded in the war against his own people. It was the turning point in Russian history: frustration and contempt for the Czar and his family struck a mortal blow at the foundations of Russian monarchy finally resulting in the Second Revolution, communist seizure of power, and execution of Nicolas II.
   The attitudes in Russian society at that time were well expressed in the poem written in 1908 by K. Balmont, a famous Russian poet. Here follows my very free and somewhat awkward translation.
Our Czar is Mukden, Our Czar's Tsushima, Наш царь - Мукден, наш царь - Цусима
He is a bloody, nasty spot, Наш царь - кровавое пятно
The stinking powder, relapsing fever, Зловонье пороха и дыма,
That leaves a smeary and dirty blot. В котором разуму темно
He is a freak of nature, blind, stupid,1 Наш царь - убожество слепое
Confinement, birch-rods, a cowardly man Тюрьма и кнут, подсуд, расстрел
The Czar is a gallows-bird good at shooting Царь-висельник, тем низкий вдвое,
His own people, the one who likes to hang Что обещал, но дать не смел
He falsely promised, came a stinker. Он - трус, он чувствует с запинкой
His retribution is foretold: Но будет, - час расплаты ждёт.
The reign that started with Khodynka2 Кто начал царствовать Ходынкой,
Will end the ladder to scaffold Тот кончит, встав на эшафот
   Russia evened the score during World War II.
   At the Yalta Conference of 1945 the Soviet Union had agreed to Allied pleas to terminate its neutrality pact with Japan and enter World War II's Pacific Theater within three months after the end of the war in Europe. On August 9, 1945 began Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation. Russian troops under the command of Marshal Vasilevsky inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese Kwantung Army under General Otsuzo Yamada, that had over six hundred thousand man.
   In August 18-31 Soviet forces occupied the North and South Kurils and the whole Sakhalin Island.
   Japanese soldiers giving themselves up to the Red Army (taken from Wikipedia).
   The Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, along with the two atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined to force Japan's surrender; they made it clear that Japan had no hope of holding out, even in the Home Islands. Nevertheless Japan never accepted Russian occupation of the Kurils and refused to sign peace treaty with Russia.
   In 1956 N.Khrushov, the Soviet leader, promised to return the Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan so that it would be possible to sign the peace treaty. Negotiations between Russians and Japanese failed because of pressure on Japan from the USA who was afraid that the Soviet Union would possess legally the Kuril Islands http://www.vgws.org/Texte/Saito.html.
   In 2004 Lavrov, President Putin's Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that Russia was ready to realize Khrushev's promise to cede two of the Kurils Islands to Japan. The Japanese didn't accept the proposal demanding that Russia should cede four islands that they call `North Territories'.
   So Russia and Japan don't have a peace treaty, which means that they are still in a state of war.
   Arguments in the Dispute
   Both sides provide arguments to support their positions that can be summarized as follows.
   Russian arguments
  -- The native inhabitants of the Islands are Ainu people that have nothing in common with the Japanese. The Japanese invaded the Kurils, conducted ethnic-cleansing, and decimated the ethnic population. Having displayed such brutality the Japanese don't have any moral rights to own the islands.
  -- The name of the Islands, under which they are known all over the world, is of Russian origin. Kuril is a third person past tense of the verb kurit' (smoke). This name was given to the Islands by Russian sailors who saw volcanoes emit smoke. Russia has priority in geographical discovery of the Islands3.
  -- In World War II Japan was a faithful ally of fascist Germany. Russia had to deploy a more than one million army in the Far East instead of sending troops to the German front, which significantly increased Russian losses. The Japanese ambition was to occupy all the territory of Russia from the Far East to the Urals in accordance with preliminary agreement with Hitler. Japan was defeated and must pay for it in the same way as Germany did. Germany, who had to cede to Russia the vast territory of Prussia, doesn't put forth any territorial claims. Territorial claims of Japan manifest its aggressive nature. If we cede the four islands Japan will demand the rest of the islands at once.
  -- As soon as the Kurils are ceded the USA will build military bases on them to deprive Russia of the control over the Sea of Okhotsk to greatly undermine Russia's security on the whole.
  -- Ceding of the Islands will cause unrest among Russian society, and the political leaders responsible for it will be treated as traitors who outraged the honor of Russian soldiers killed in the wars with Japan.
   Japanese arguments4
  -- The Kurils came under the Japanese jurisdiction in the 16th century while Russians appeared there in the 18th century, i.e. two hundred years later. The Russians have always used this territory to build temporary settlements so as to hunt otters, to fish, to exhaust natural recourses of surrounding seas. They didn't stir a finger to build infrastructures, communications, capital constructions, and houses as the Japanese did. They don't have historical rights for this territory.
  -- In the Kurils are 6,140 square miles of islands populated by 16,800 people, which makes less than 3 persons per a square mile. Most of these people live in striking poverty indecent for a civilized society http://www.kuriles.ru/?div=9&id=52. Russian government hasn't cared for these territories and people living there. Japan is overpopulated; it desperately needs these territories to expand its lebensraum. The Japanese will not banish Russians living in the Islands as the Russian occupation army did with the Japanese inhabitants in 1945. Japan can provide these people with decent living standards or pay substantial compensations to those ones who will decide to move to Russia so that they will be able to buy there good houses and start business or get education.
  -- The decision to cede the islands will solve the territorial problem forever. The peace treaty will be immediately signed to significantly improve the bilateral economic and political relations. Russia will greatly benefit from large scale Japanese investments that will help to increase living standards in the Russian Far East.
  -- According to the treaty signed by President Putin in 2004 Russia ceded several big islands in the Amur River to China without getting any distinct profits. Why wouldn't it cede the Kuril Islands to Japan to get important political and economic advantages?
   The argumentation shows how deep the contradictions between the positions of two sides are, how unlikely is to achieve an agreement, how important is to suggest a solution acceptable for both sides.
   My Solution
   The solution of the Kuril Islands problem can be developed only and if only it conforms to the national interests of both sides, Russia and Japan. It's important to precisely specify what a national interest is. My definition runs as follows: a national interest involves the solution of problems vital for the specific country at the given historic stage of its development. A vital problem is that one that threatens the existence of the whole nation, affects its welfare, well-being of the people.
   Having adopted these definitions let's consider national interests of Russia and Japan. I will take the liberty to begin with Japan and hope my Japanese friends will not get offended.
   The main problem of contemporary Japan, as I as well as many demographers see it, is enormous overpopulation and lack of territories. With the population exceeding 128 million Japan has the population density of 343 persons per square kilometer, taking the 5th place among the most densely populated countries. Without new territories Japan will not be able to construct new plants, to develop its high technologies and in the long run to compete with new powers, such as China.
   Another problem that Japan faces is unfavorable natural conditions, constant earthquakes. Being located on volcanic islands Japan is a very earthquake prone country. More than 1,500 earthquakes occur in Japan every year, i.e. several of them each day. The most disastrous of them took place in 1923 when the number of victims was more than 140,000 people, 575,000 houses in Tokyo and Yokahama were destroyed, and the Sagami Bay became 400 meters deeper! I remember reading a science fiction short story that predicted that all the Japanese Islands would disappear under the water after an enormous earthquake and tsunami. And this prediction seems very plausible. The Japanese live in an overcrowded and a very unsafe country.
   Let's now go back to the topic of the essay and answer the main question: Will the ceding of 4 Kuril Island help to solve the problems? The answer is evident - In no way! The territory of these islands is so small that it will not influence the overpopulation problem at all. The Kuril Islands are of the same volcanic origin as the Japan Islands and earthquakes occur there with the same frequency.
   The conclusion is that the Japan's demand to Russia to cede the Kuril Islands doesn't correspond to Japanese national interests. That doesn't mean that it doesn't correspond to any of the Japanese interests. It is sure to be in accordance with some socio-physiological expectations of a number of Japanese people but not with the Japan's national interests as defined above.
   Let's proceed to Russian national interests. The problems that Russia faces are somewhat opposite to the Japanese ones. The average population density in Russia is 8,7 persons per 1 square kilometer. In the Far East and Eastern Siberia it is even less than a person: in Chiukotka, Yakutia, an northern part of Siberia it varies from 0,03 to 0,3 persons per 1 square kilometer. Vast territories that stretch for thousands kilometers are not inhabited at all http://www.sci.aha.ru/ATL/ra13a.htm
   Russia has almost the same population as Japan (145 million against 130 million) with the territory 45.3 times larger (17,075,400 km2 against 377,000 km2)! Perhaps it is this fact that bothers the Japanese: with such a vast territory and such a small population Russia can easily cede four small islands!
   Under the Soviet Union Russian government took much effort creating the whole system of benefits for people living on these territories. They got salaries that were 5-10 times bigger than those ones in the European part of the country. Each family got a flat or cottage for free. A year of work was equal 1,5 years, you could retire at the age of 40 to get a decent pension. Or move to the Black Sea coast to buy there a house.
   The concerns of Russian government at that time were quite understandable: no government can control uninhabited territories. With President Eltsin's reforms at the begging of 1990s all the benefits were canceled. An intensive migration of population from the Far East and Eastern Siberia began. Birth rates dropped to World War II level. Beginning from 1992 the decrease of population in Russia was ~1 million a year5.
   Modern Russian leaders are aware of the depopulation problem. "We are really witnessing the depopulation, the depopulation of territories in Eastern Siberia and the Far East. The measures we take don't produce any significant effect", stated Putin during one of his visits to Vladivostok. http://www.remigrant.de/content/view/114/21/
   Another problem with these territories is lack of jobs. Even if the Federal Government succeeded in preventing the depopulation people couldn't find any jobs because many plants that existed under the Soviet Union were privatized, sold and resold to go bust. People living on these territories are engaged in hunting, fishing, or in selling Chinese goods and used Japanese cars.
   Considering what has been said above I see only one way out: the Japanese people must move to Russian Eastern Siberia taking with them their plants, factories, research centers and universities, and cultural artifacts. To some weak minds this idea might seem bewildering or even mad; nevertheless I am ready to substantiate it pointing to the following benefits.
   Benefits for the Japanese
  -- The continental part of Siberia is not subject to earthquakes. The Japanese people will forget about them forever to lead peaceful and safe life.
  -- Since the vast territories in Eastern Siberia are uninhabited there will be no problem to provide each of the Japanese with a plot of land whose size must be discussed during special negotiations. The overpopulation problem will be solved forever.
  -- These territories are rich in mineral resources; there will be no problem to supply the Japanese factories with all necessary resource such as oil, gas, energy, aluminum, iron ore, gold, etc. The Japanese settlers can prospect the region for new resources.
  -- These territories abound in natural unpolluted resources, such as rivers and lakes with clean waters and fish, forests with wild animals. To explore such territories is a gripping undertaking. Of course there may be difficulties caused by the much more sever climate in Eastern Siberia. But I know from my personal experience how easy it is to get adapted for frosts and I also know that winters in Siberia have become much milder during last decades due to the global warming.
   Benefits for the Russians
  -- The depopulation problem will be solved. It's unrealistic to expect the migration process to be fast. Not all the Japanese would like to move to Siberia and many of them will stay at their native land. I expect that about 40 million of the Japanese can move to Siberia to found there a new state - New Japan or Siberian Japan - Si-Japan. The very first settlers will be the staff of plants and factories, the builders who will construct the factories. They all will come with their families and when the children are born and grow up they could marry native Russians to create a new nation - the Runese who will combine the best features of Russian and Japanese peoples.
  -- New plants will facilitate rapid economic development of the Siberian region and the whole of Russia who will get a unique chance to become the leading world empire.
   What I suggest is in fact a project aimed at uniting the two states thus combining Russian unlimited natural resources with high Japanese technologies. The project seems unrealistic and raises many questions.
   Question 1. What about essential cultural differences between the Russians and the Japanese?
   - Russia has always been a multi-national state. In Siberia live many peoples belonging to different nations and races. In Eastern Siberia the Japanese can find the Buryats who profess the same Buddhist religion and belong to the same Mongolian race.
   Question 2: What will be the status of Si-Japan?
   - This is the most intricate problem. I think Si-Japan will not have the full sovereignty of an independent state. It will have its own President and prime-minister, its own constitution and laws. But it won't have its own army and it will have to pay taxes to Federal budget. Such problems must be discussed on referendums that must be conducted in both countries.
   Question 3. How long will it take to found Si-Japan?
   - The processes that involve integration of independent states cannot be fast. It took the European Union about 40 years to integrate. In this case my estimation is 87 years.
   Question 4. What specific territory will Si-Japan occupy?
   - This is another intricate problem that will require years of negotiations and consultations.
   I suggest that it will have the territory of the same size as contemporary Japan. Japan will actually double its territory. Note that on this territory will live only 40 million people. The picture below demonstrates the approximate location of Si-Japan.
   Welcome to Si-Japan, Friends!
  1. That 'freak of nature' was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and in 2000 proclaimed to be a saint (!). A disgraceful act that exposes political nature of modern Russian Orthodox Church.
  2. Nikolas II's coronation festivities at Khodynka Field in 1896 resulted in a catastrophic crush during which 1,389 people were trampled to death http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khodynka_Tragedy
  3. The Japanese use a different name, of course: the Chishima Islands literally, Thousand Islands Archipelago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurils).
  4. As a Russian I am more aware of Russian argumentation. I must apologize beforehand in case I misinterpreted the argumentation of the Japanese side.
  5. President Eltsin and his followers pursued their own personal rather than national interests. Actually, they didn't have any notion of national interests. Their only interest was striving for power and money. Many people think that they undertook a large scale genocide of Russian people http://www.russia-talk.com/rf/Nazar-book.htm
   July 12, 2009
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