World News

Factbox: Japan and Russia's territorial spat

(Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev landed in a disputed island north of Japan on Monday, the first Russian leader to visit one of four isles also claimed by Japan in a territorial disagreement dating back to the end of World War Two.

Here are some key facts on the islands as well as other territorial rows Japan is facing.


A dispute over four sparsely populated islands in the Pacific has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty ending World War Two and overshadowed relations for more than 60 years.

The islands, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, were seized by the Soviet Union after it declared war on Japan in the closing days of World War Two, forcing about 17,000 Japanese residents to flee. The islets are now inhabited by a similar number of Russians, according to the Japanese government.


The disputed islands form the southern end of the Kurile Islands that stretch for 1,250 km (781 miles) from the southern tip of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido to divide the Sea of Okhotsk in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east.

On clear days, Kunashiri, one of the four islands and bigger than Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, appears only a stone’s throw away from Hokkaido.

Most people in the islands depend on fishing for their livelihood and Japan, a major fish consumer, would gain rich fishing grounds if it regained full control over the islands.

The islands are close to oil- and gas-producing regions of Russia, and the islands may themselves harbor rich mineral deposits, a tempting possibility for resource-poor Japan, but the dispute is more a legacy of World War Two than it is a squabble over resources.


Tokyo and Beijing have been locked in a prolonged territorial dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply in September after Japan detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese patrol ships near the isles.

Japan and South Korea have a long-simmering feud over a set of desolate islands roughly equidistant from both countries, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

Tokyo has in recent years asserted its claim to the islands in its annual defense white paper, causing Seoul to lodge a protest.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Daniel Magnowski