Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Russian Border Patrol Kills a Japanese Fisherman in Disputed Waters

Map of the disputed Kuril/Northern Territories region which is claimed by both Japan and Russia. This map was taken from the University of Texas Libraries website.

In the northeast Asia region there are quite a few disputed territories that I wasn’t aware of until I started living here. There are many issues that are bringing these old territory disputes back into focus. Mostly it’s due to globalization and the expansion of the economies in the region which increases nationalism and causes both economic and political power shifts.

The islands themselves aren’t the issue although historical animosities don’t help; it’s the resources and rights to exploit those resources that keep these countries demanding they have control over the disputed regions. It also doesn’t help that northeast Asia is a region with one of the highest concentration of arms in the world, so the tension is quite high. All involved know that something occur here the loss of life would be staggering. However, that doesn't stop the disputes or aid in getting them resolved.

The big issue with both the South Korean media and public is the simmering dispute over the Dokdo/Daekishimaislet which is in the East Sea (or Sea of Japan). I got the honor of an invite to visit 독도, Dokdo, and protest with the locals on the South Korean March 1st holiday. That dispute is minor and unknown to most because while most South Koreans are aware of it, only the Japanese in the affected province and Japanese politicians and diplomats in Japan know about it.

However, as summarized by the International Crisis Group in the North East Asia's Undercurrents of Conflict there are many other territory disputes in the region.

Most territorial disputes in the region are over uninhabited islands and partially submerged rocks, whose status remains ambiguous under international law, including Tokdo/Takeshima, jointly claimed by South Korea and Japan; Senkaku/Diaoyu, jointly claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan; and the Kuril/Northern Territories, jointly claimed by Russia and Japan. The importance of most of these lies not so much in their intrinsic value, but in the surrounding economic zones.
Unfortunately, today there are news reports that a Japanese crab fisherman was shot and killed by Russian border patrol boat this morning in the Kuril/Northern Territories region which is claimed by both Japan and Russia. (Click on the map above for a full-sized map view of the region).

The thing that is crazy about all of these territory disputes is how long they’ve been going. The Kuril/Northern Territories dispute has been going for more than 60 years and is the reason why Japan and Russia to this day do not have a World War II peace treaty. The depth of bullheadedness is just amazing.

What is sad is due to the inability of politicians and diplomats to sit down and figure something out a fisherman lost his life today.

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