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Japan protests Russia-China military drills, Moscow scraps Kuril Islands visa-free visits to the islands for former Japanese residents

beijingwalker

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Japan protests Russia-China military drills, Moscow scraps Kuril Islands visa-free visits to the islands for former Japanese residents​

  • Parts of the multinational ‘Vostok 2022’ drills took place on two disputed islands that Russia controls but Japan claims, a Tokyo official said
  • On Tuesday, Moscow said it had scrapped a reciprocal agreement that allowed visa-free visits to the islands for former Japanese residents

Associated Press in Tokyo

Published: 9:29am, 6 Sep, 2022

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A Russian anti-submarine ship takes part in the Vostok 2022 drills on Monday. Japan’s Defence Ministry said it had spotted six Russian and Chinese warships firing machine guns into the Sea of Japan off Hokkaido over the weekend. Photo: EPA-EFE

Tokyo has protested to Moscow over multinational military exercises being conducted on Russian-held islands claimed by Japan, and is seriously concerned about shooting drills by Russian and Chinese warships off Japan’s northern coast, an official said.

The news came as Russia said on Tuesday it had scrapped an agreement with Japan to allow former Japanese residents visa-free visits to the Russian-held Kuril Islands, which Japan claims as its Northern Territories.
Russia has been hosting the multinational “Vostok 2022” drills at a number of locations in the country’s far east since late August. China is one of the countries taking part, as Beijing increases its military cooperation with Moscow.

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Chinese troops march during the Vostok 2022 military exercises at a firing range in Russia’s far east on August 31. Photo: Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno criticised Russia for holding exercises on two of the four disputed islands in the Kuril chain off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. It was not clear whether China was part of the exercises on the disputed islands.

Matsuno said Japan’s Defence Ministry spotted six Russian and Chinese warships firing machine guns into the Sea of Japan about 190 kilometres (118 miles) west of Cape Kamui on Hokkaido on Saturday.
“Japan will continue to monitor the movements of these ships with serious concern, and will take all possible measures to conduct warning and surveillance activities in the waters surrounding Japan,” Matsuno said at a news conference on Monday.

China’s Ministry of National Defence said in a statement on Sunday that China took part in air, ground and naval exercises as part of the drills. It said a Chinese naval tactical team conducted joint exercises with Russia in the Sea of Japan, including one designed to destroy drifting mines.

Japan has raised concerns about growing tensions in Asia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fearing that the war is emboldening China’s already assertive military activities in East Asia. Japan is currently revising its national security strategy and defence guidelines to significantly bolster its military capabilities to reinforce its deterrence.

After the joint firing exercise, the warships, including a Chinese guided missile destroyer, a frigate and a supply ship and three Russian frigates, crossed the Soya Strait between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The Chinese warships had crossed Tsushima Strait in southwestern Japan on August 29, the ministry said.

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The town of Kurilsk on the island of Iturup in the Kuril Islands. Photo: AFP

Japan has repeatedly sought to regain sovereignty over the disputed islands, which Moscow seized in the closing days of World War II. The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities. Russia earlier this year announced it had suspended peace talks with Japan to protest Tokyo’s sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

The reciprocal visa programme for the islands, under which visas were also waived for travel to Japan by island residents, was scrapped because of Japan’s participation in Western sanctions, according to a Russian lawmaker.

“It followed as a response to the illegal sanctions pressure exerted by the Japanese government and its joining the West’s Russophobic policy,” Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the international committee of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, was quoted as saying by Tass news agency.

On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi condemned Russia’s action, calling it “totally unacceptable”.
Hayashi said at a news conference that Japan has yet to be informed by Russia about the decision, and that Tokyo has lodged a protest with Moscow through diplomatic channels.

 

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Russia scraps visa-free visits to islands claimed by Japan

A group of former residents and their relatives pray in front of a tomb on Etorofu Island in July 2019. | KYODO A group of former residents and their relatives pray in front of a tomb on Etorofu Island in July 2019. | KYODO

Sep 6, 2022


Russia has scrapped an agreement with Japan to allow Japanese former residents to visit disputed islands off Hokkaido without visas, triggering a protest Tuesday from Tokyo as tensions between the two nations remain high over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian government released a document Monday signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin regarding its unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, a decision that a Russian lawmaker attributed to Japan’s participation in Western sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

Under the reciprocal program, visas are also waived for travel to Japan by residents of the Russian-held, Japan-claimed islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi condemned Russia’s action, saying it is “totally unacceptable.”

Hayashi said at a news conference that Japan has yet to be informed by Russia about the decision, and that Tokyo has lodged a protest with Moscow through diplomatic channels.
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February, Japan and other members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations have been enforcing sanctions, including freezing the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s central bank.

The withdrawal from the visa-free travel program “followed as a response to the illegal sanctions pressure exerted by the Japanese government and its joining the West’s Russophobic policy,” Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the international committee of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, was quoted as telling Tass news agency.

The dispute over the islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

The row stems from seizure of the territory by the Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor state, in the weeks following Japan’s World War II surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

In another reaction to Japan’s sanctions on Russia, Moscow announced in March the suspension of negotiations for a postwar peace treaty with Japan, and its withdrawal from joint economic activities with Tokyo on the disputed islands.

The travel programs for the four islands including visa-free visits had been suspended since 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Moscow’s decision disappointed former residents of the islands, with one of them, Sadao Furubayashi, saying it will make it more difficult for him to visit his hometown on Kunashiri Island again.

“I wonder how many times we have to get pushed around,” Furubayashi, 83, who currently lives in Nemuro in eastern Hokkaido, said after returning from fishing early in the morning.
Hirotoshi Kawata, 87, a native of one of the Habomai islets, said he had been longing for resumption of the island visit project, and that he never expected Russia to unilaterally scrap the agreement.

“Peaceful resolution of the territorial issue has only got further away,” Kawata said.

 

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