The Knotty Kuril Island Problem

Last month, the former Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara took his second trip to the disputed Kuril Islands, although the tone of his visit was far different from the frosty exchanges of late. Maehara, who resigned his post in March amid a funding scandal but returned to the political stage to contest unsuccessfully for the premiership with the resignation of Naoto Kan in August, surveyed the landscape of Iturup – the largest island in the Southern Kuril chain – but refrained from inflammatory remarks on territorial ownership or reconciling the long stalled peace treaty that dates back to World War II. Instead, Maehara – a youthful and ambitious politician with eyes still on ultimately leading his country – took a nuanced approach and encouraged stronger ties between Japan and Russia, especially with regard to trade and investment.

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