The Third Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum

Hiroshi Kimura

Mayor Foley, Mr. Charles Doleac, and distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen. It is a great honor and a privilege for me to be able to attend this historical event, namely, the 90th anniversary of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty. As one of the students studying Russo-Japanese relations, it has been a dream for me to be able to come to Portsmouth, but finally that dream was realized at the right time. So I am very fortunate to be here these past three days.

First of all, I would like to make sure. My name is Kimura, is not Komura, unfortunately! But I have something in common - I am also as short as Baron Komura. To the American audience, please let me speak just one or two words in Japanese so that they can understand. (Japanese excerpt)

Since we completed our studies together, with my Russian and American colleagues, three things have happened. Put in a simple way: Yeltsin's visit to Tokyo, the rise of nationalism in Russia, and thirdly, earthquakes in that region. In this order, I would like to speak very briefly. First of all, the Tokyo visit by Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, in October 1993. Although this visit did not make a breakthrough toward solving the longstanding, thorny dispute between Japan and Russia, namely the northern territory issue, however, it seemed to represent an important milestone, because it established a basic framework for further discussion and negotiation between these countries of this issue. Particularly compared with Gorbachev's visit in April, 1991, because of the following two reasons, Yeltsin's visit was significant to both countries. First of all, the first significant step was taken by a brave Yeltsin, because he apologized officially for the fact that the Soviet Union under the rule of Joseph Stalin took six hundred thousand prisoners of war to Siberian camps, out of which 60,000 were dead and couldn't come back to Japan. I was fortunate enough to be at the reception hosted by the Emperor and Empress at the Imperial House, thanks to the arrangement made by the Japanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I happened to be the only scholar, and I was able to witness with my own eyes and ears that President Yeltsin apologized officially for this. At the very beginning, I am just a plain professor, and I was together with my wife sitting just in quite a remote place from the Russian President and the Emperor and Empress. So I couldn't recognize very well the Japanese Empress, who is so popular among us. However, Boris Yeltsin is so huge, such a tall, big guy, so I could recognize him very easily. And the text of his speech had been distributed in advance, so that we could - in the Japanese language - so that we could follow his speech. However, when he came to the crucial part, he changed the text, and said very clearly, he said "I'm sorry..or condolence..." or something like that, but an apology in the Russian language, which I could catch. So I was very glad, particularly because this apology is related to the solution of the northern territorial questions. Why? Because previously, under the Soviet rule, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union never committed mistakes, diplomatically. The infallibility of the CPSU was such that every foreign policy conducted by Stalin and others, was the correct one. However, for the first time, they admitted, acknowledged a mistake of foreign policy conduct.

That may lead to another apology, for the fact that Stalin mistakenly occupied these four islands. Therefore, with apology they will return these islands. My interpretation is a little bit prejudiced one, but still I am very glad that Russians apologize sometimes. Not all the time.

The second step was made about methodology. When Gorbachev came to Tokyo, he just acknowledged the existence of the territorial question. That's all. However, Yeltsin, for the first time, agreed with his Japanese counterpart that the international conflict must be resolved, not between a victorious and a vanquished nation, but rather through the obligation of the diplomatic doctrine of law and justice, which is a universal principle. So we are very glad.

These are two steps made by Yeltsin. However, since he went back to Moscow, the situation has not been terribly good. Developments since Yeltsin's visit to Tokyo can be, from the Japanese point of view, categorized into two groups. One is the developments that are favorable to Japan, and second group which are not necessarily favorable to Japan with regard to the possible solution of territorial issues in the near future.

First, let me talk about the unfavorable development, the rise of nationalism. Two months after Yeltsin returned home to Moscow, they had a parliamentary election held in Moscow, Russia. In that election, the Russian liberal democratic party headed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is ultra right, a notorious neo-fascist, won. Then followed the Communist party. In other words, the democratic party who are for the solution of the territorial question with Japan, didn't do a good job. For example, Zhirinovsky made such a terrible speech, saying that if Japan insists on demanding return of the northern islands back to Japan, it will be answered by a nuclear attack, worse than those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a really terrible thing to listen to such a speech. However, this is a fact: that a very nationalistic conservative mood has been emerging since that time. Therefore, now some even dare to say that an area solution to the territorial dispute with Japan is out of the question. That kind of mood affects the Yeltsin administration, of course, and his recent statement concerning the earthquake on Sakhalin surprised us; namely, that his country did not like to receive any aid, humanitarian aid from Japan because Japan may later request return of the islands. So it seemed to be that he has changed a bit.

Thirdly, on the other hand, however, there are developments that are favorable to Japan since our studies were completed. First of all, the military strategy value of these islands. Previously, this area, namely the Sea of Okhotsk and, by extension, the four islands, were considered to be important by the Soviet military as a sanctuary of the Soviet SSB and nuclear submarines. In that so-called bastion strategy, the four islands occupied a very important strategic position. However, with the cold war over, the importance of this bastion has decreased tremendously. Of course, human mind-sets cannot be changed overnight; therefore, still in the military, there are generals who believe that these areas, the region including four tiny islands, are still very important from the military strategy point of view. But still we hope that they will change their minds sooner or later. In this connection, I would like to say that although nationalism is emerging now in Russia, however, in the end, in the final analysis, Russian consideration of cost and balance will eventually prevail over such nationalism and sentiment.

Secondly, since we conducted our joint research and writing of the report, two trends can be witnessed. One is what I call Japanization of the four islands in dispute. By Japanization, I mean the deepening connections that the current Russian inhabitants of these islands are making day by day with Japan; even giving rise to a situation in which the islands have already returned or reverted to Japan on a de facto basis. I will explain.

Legally or illegally, in person and through third parties, the Russian inhabitants of these islands are coming to Nemuro and other parts of Hokkaido to sell crab to the Japanese. Not lobster (to make sure), just crab. (Lobster is much better, but...). However, they are bringing crab to this Japanese area to sell with not rubles but yen, so that they can purchase a used car, fresh vegetables, and other daily products, from this area, which they take back to the islands. And I have very recently heard an interesting story from a Japanese professor who went to these islands, through a so called non-visa program, exchange program. For example, on Kunashiri Island, one of the four disputed islands, there is no barber shop, - hard to believe - ; there is no dentist. Therefore, Russian fishermen have to come to Hokkaido just to get a haircut. Or to see the dentist. As a result, Japanese goods have proliferated on these islands. Therefore, economically speaking, it's not an exaggeration to say that these islands have been already integrated in the Japanese economy. In addition, culturally, academically, psychologically, the Japan influence has been increasing. For example, Russian fishermen watch closely Japanese television, broadcast from Tokyo or Hokkaido, to make sure whether they go out for fishing or not. Because Japanese forecasts are more accurate than Russian ones. I'm not boasting. That is exactly what I heard from them. Besides, Russian children have become fond of Japanese cartoon movies, programs, and the Russian inhabitants on these islands are interested in learning the Japanese language, so that in case these islands are returned back to Japan, they could get a job very easily, you see. So we are asked to send educational material on how to study Japanese.

Psychologically, it is surprising, one of the residents of Shikotan Island said, "Our governor is not the governor of Sakhalin but the Japanese Governor of Hokkaido." Meaning psychologically, politically, his mind set already, he is becoming a Japanese. Why? Because only the governor of Hokkaido is replying, answering to their requests for help, financial help, help bringing food. Whereas Yeltsin is far away from this area, and the governor of Sakhalin could not help them. Therefore, psychologically or virtually, these islands, particularly Shikotan, have reverted to Hokkaido, and are thus part of Japan.

Secondly, I will also point out a second part of these islands, namely, their population is the result of the retreat to the mainland of Russia of Russian residents who have almost become desperate and forced to give up hope of a better life by remaining on these islands. Previously, I will give you data, 25,000 civilian inhabitants, plus 10,000 troops were stationed, were living over there. But now, at least, 15,000 plus 7,000 soldiers are living there, or even less. And one of the administrators over this area stated that, after the earthquake, only 4,000 Russians are necessary to recover the ashes of earthquake. In other words, it is not necessary for pensioners or elderly people to live there. This is surprising. It almost sounds like going back to the Stalinist days.

Finally, as I have observed in these changes, changes in the opinion of Russian inhabitants are taking place, namely in favor of the return of the islands. Because there is no hope, so long as they remain under the sovereignty of the Russian federation. More and more Russian inhabitants favor now the return of the islands to Japan. Because they cannot stand in that situation, a very uncomfortable and needless half-way house situation. So resentment towards the center of government is very strong.

Lastly - this is my last remark - how about the future? I have a rather unique opinion on this. Discussing the future prospect of this longstanding dispute between these two countries. In order to discuss this question, we have to deal with what are the determining factors, or what will determine the future on this issue? Traditionally, previously, only top leaders, namely Yeltsin on the Russian side, and on our side, Muriyama or whoever, only top leaders of Moscow and Tokyo make the decision on the territorial issue. If we understand it in such a way, there is not a very bright hope. Because Yeltsin is becoming increasingly nationalistic; therefore, some Japanese have gone so far as to say that as long as Yeltsin stays in Moscow, there is no hope for Japan to get these islands back in our hands. However, this is the idea as if we are prisoners of the old thinking. Why? Now we have to forget about our role, for three kinds of people or things play increasingly significant roles in foreign policy making. First is ordinary people, the Russian inhabitants of these islands, for example. In the case of the Berlin Wall, it was not a top leader, top level talks between Gorbachev and Chancellor Kohl that prepared the way for German reunification. Rather, it was the demonstration carried day and night by the people of East Germany. Although it is best to refrain from facile analogies. There is no guarantee that a similar event might happen on these islands. In other words, people force, people deserting from these islands. So naturally, the top leader in Moscow has to decide.

Secondly, and this I learned from Graham Allison, when we were working three years ago together at Cambridge, I never thought of this scenario. Namely, an unintended development caused by natural disaster. He named the Krakatoa scenario. He listed sixty-five scenarios involving the northern territorial question, but finally he added one more. This is the scenario, namely, the island of Krakatoa in the Pacific ocean, was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the nineteenth century. Human beings cannot solve all the questions in the world. Sometimes we should be modest. Such a natural disaster resolves what we cannot resolve.

Another variation of this is the "Pinotubu scenario," in which a natural disaster renders the islands uninhabitable. Allison said it should be kept in mind "that an act of God may sometimes subvert the will of man." That's a very good sentence, which I'd like to quote. Then unexpectedly, two earthquakes took place, one near to Hokkaido and close to these disputed islands. That destroyed practically all the factories, schools, nurseries, and primary schools. And the second earthquake took place in Sakhalin. Of course, we are not happy they are having their troubles. However, if Russia mismanages that kind of natural disaster, then these islands will become uninhabitable. So naturally these islands will become Japanese territory.

Finally, at the very last, there is a third determining factor. That also I learned from Konstantin Sarkisov and Graham Allison, namely, that an honest broker, intermediary person, is very important, who can help solve peacefully this longstanding thorny stumbling block between these two great countries, namely Russia and Japan. There is no other country except the United States that plays such a great role at the present period. This is a simple lesson, and yet the most valuable lesson that we should draw from this Peace Treaty of Portsmouth, which was concluded 90 years ago. Thank you very much.

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