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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #95: January 14, 2003

Japan and Russia set to back pipeline

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Japan and Russia set to back pipeline"
(by Quentin Peel and Andrew Jack) Financial Times


About sixty years ago, on April 13, 1941, The Japanese-Soviet Neutral Treaty was concluded for a term of five years, with a provision for it to be extended for further five years unless either party notifies the other of its intention to invalidate it one year prior to the expiration of the original term. In 1945 USSR notified Japan that the treaty would be abolished, acknowledging in the notification that the treaty would still be in effect until April of 1946.

Therefore, it was an obvious, even naive, breach of the treaty when the Soviet Army marched onto the four northern islands of Japan at the end of August of 1945, after Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces on 14th (15th, depending on which time zone you live) of that month.

Since then, Soviets, and then Russians, have occupied the islands illegitimately. The illegality of the situation has been so thoroughly documented and established during the while that presently scholar of international law would rarely care to consider it as a subject of analysis. Nevertheless, the reality persists.

In 1956, Japan resumed diplomatic relations with the USSR, mainly because for Japan to be acceded to the United Nations, where USSR was a prominent member and its objection had prevented Japan from taking part in the organization. Understandably, no reference was made to the territorial issue at the time.

Then came last week, when Prime Minister Koizumi visited Moscow, upon his first foreign trip this year, and had a chat with President Putin. A lengthy list of subjects discussed was publicized after the talks, but none of the topics seems to have impressed the public.

People in Japan had been taught for a long time that until the territorial issue is resolved the Russians would remain as a hostile existence for Japan. It could be necessary, perhaps from time to time, since we share the same seas, to discuss such issues as environment and fishery resources, and other clear and present danger, like the nuclear arms development by North Koreans. Nevertheless, working together in a large project was something not contemplated, and such ideas were seen skeptically by many.

It was as recent as less than a year ago when a lawmaker Muneo Suzuki was arrested. He had been known for promoting new development plans on the northern islands, but infuriated people when it was found out that he was in fact filling his own pockets with public money, while hinting the Russians that Japan may be ready to give up a part of its claim on the islands.

It therefore came out as a bit of a surprise, when the reports came out of the meeting explaining that virtually nothing was discussed on the territorial issues but the two gentlemen talked amicably about a pipeline project. (To be fair, an official report did come out saying the territorial issue was discussed also, but the explanation was only a decoration with fancy and ornamental expressions, without any substance.)

Thus the pipeline project, reported in the captioned article as a prospect, apparently did come up in the talks between Messrs Koizumi and Putin. To many, however, it seems as though it popped suddenly out of mid air. Admittedly, the idea itself may be viable. But there is another plan already under way for formal evaluation, as mentioned in the article, in which the pipeline is to be laid from Siberia to Daqing in China, as opposed to the terminal being Nakhodka, on the shores of Japan Sea, in the idea presented this time. The plan with the Chinese is reported to cost significantly less to build, operate, and maintain, which would allow Japan to acquire less expensive oil.

There are obvious advantages, however, for Japan to seek for a pipeline reaching Nakhodka. For one thing, it would not run over Chinese territory. So, in case of need, whatever that may be, Japan, and perhaps Russia as well, would not have to ask for Chinese authorization in doing whatever with the pipeline or how it would be utilized. This could be an important factor from the standpoint of national security.

In addition, there could be another reason. The new pipeline, if given a go ahead, might bring new businesses to many Japanese companies, ailing from recession and craving for jobs.

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