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My Solution to the Kuril Islands Problem

by Viacheslav Yatsko

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

My Solution

The solution of the Kuril Islands problem can be developed only if it conforms to the national interests of both sides, Russia and Japan. It is important to specify precisely what a national interest is. My definition runs as follows: a national interest involves the solution of problems vital to the specific country at a given historic stage of its development. A vital problem is that one that threatens the existence of the whole nation, affects its welfare and the well-being of its people.

Having adopted these definitions let’s consider the national interests of Russia and Japan. I will take the liberty to begin with Japan and hope my Japanese friends will not be offended.

The main problem of contemporary Japan, as I and many demographers see it, is enormous overpopulation and lack of territory. With a population exceeding 128 million, Japan has a population density of 343 persons per square kilometer, taking the 5th place among the most densely populated countries. Without new territories, Japan will not be able to construct new plants, develop its high technologies, or in the long run compete with new powers such as China.

Another problem that Japan faces is unfavorable natural conditions: constant earthquakes. Being located on volcanic islands, Japan is a very earthquake-prone country. More than 1,500 earthquakes occur in Japan every year, i.e. several each day. The most disastrous of them took place in 1923 and claimed more than 140,000 victims; some 575,000 houses in Tokyo and Yokahama were destroyed, and Sagami Bay became 400 meters deeper! I remember reading a science fiction short story that predicted that all the Japanese Islands would disappear under water after an enormous earthquake and tsunami. And this prediction seems very plausible. The Japanese live in an overcrowded and very unsafe country.

Let’s now go back to the topic of the essay and answer the main question: Will the ceding of four of the Kuril Islands help solve the problems? The answer is evident: in no way! The territory of these islands is so small that it will not affect the overpopulation problem at all. The Kuril Islands are of the same volcanic origin as the Japan Islands, and earthquakes occur there with the same frequency.

The conclusion is that the Japan’s demand that Russia cede the Kuril Islands does not correspond to Japanese national interests. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t correspond to any Japanese interests. It is sure to be in accordance with some socio-physiological expectations of a number of Japanese people, but not with the Japan’s national interests as defined above.

Let’s proceed to Russian national interests. The problems that Russia faces are somewhat opposite to the Japanese ones. The average population density in Russia is 8.7 persons per square kilometer. In the Far East and Eastern Siberia it is even less than one person: in Chiukotka, Yakutia, and the northern part of Siberia, it varies from 0.03 to 0.3 persons per square kilometer. Vast territories that stretch for thousands kilometers are not inhabited at all.

Russia has almost the same population as Japan (145 million vs. 130 million) with a territory 45.3 times larger (17,075,400 km2 vs. 377,000 km2)! Perhaps it is this fact that bothers the Japanese: with such a vast territory and such a small population, Russia can easily cede four small islands!

Under the Soviet Union, the Russian government made a great effort to create a whole system of benefits for people living in these territories. They got salaries that were 5 to 10 times larger than those in the European part of the country. Each family got a flat or cottage for free. A year of work was equal 1.5 years; you could retire at the age of 40 and get a decent pension. Or move to the Black Sea coast and buy a house.

The concerns of the Russian government at that time were quite understandable: no government can control uninhabited territories. With President Eltsin’s reforms at the beginning of the 1990’s all the benefits were canceled. An intensive migration of population from the Far East and Eastern Siberia began. Birth rates dropped to World War II levels. Beginning in 1992 the population decrease in Russia was about 1 million a year.

Modern Russian leaders are aware of the depopulation problem. “We are really witnessing the depopulation of territories in Eastern Siberia and the Far East. The measures we have taken are not having any significant effect,” stated Putin during one of his visits to Vladivostok.

Another problem with these territories is lack of jobs. Even if the Federal Government succeeded in preventing depopulation, people couldn’t find any jobs because many plants that existed under the Soviet Union were privatized, sold and resold to go bust. People living on these territories are engaged in hunting, fishing, or in selling Chinese goods and used Japanese cars.

Considering what has been said above I see only one way out: the Japanese people must move to Russian Eastern Siberia and take with them their plants, factories, research centers, universities, and cultural artifacts. To some weak minds this idea may seem bewildering or even mad; nevertheless I am ready to substantiate it by pointing to the following benefits.

Benefits for the Japanese

Benefits for the Russians

What I suggest is in fact a project aimed at uniting the two states, thus combining Russia’s unlimited natural resources with Japanese high technology. The project seems unrealistic and raises many questions.

Question 1. What about essential cultural differences between the Russians and the Japanese?

Russia has always been a multinational state. Many peoples belonging to different nations and races live in Siberia. In Eastern Siberia, the Japanese can find the Buryats who profess the same Buddhist religion and belong to the same Mongolian race.

Question 2: What will be the status of Si-Japan?

This is the most intricate problem. I think Si-Japan will not have the full sovereignty of an independent state. It will have its own President and prime minister, its own constitution and laws. But it won’t have its own army, and it will have to pay taxes to the Federal budget. Such problems must be discussed in referendums conducted in both countries.

Question 3. How long will it take to found Si-Japan?

The processes that involve the integration of independent states cannot proceed rapidly. It took the European Union about 40 years to integrate. In this case my estimate is 87 years.

Question 4. What specific territory will Si-Japan occupy?

This is another intricate problem that will require years of negotiations and consultations.

I suggest that it have a territory of the same size as contemporary Japan. Note that only 40 million people will live in this territory. The map on the auxiliary page (click here) demonstrates the approximate location of Si-Japan.

Welcome to Si-Japan, friends!

Copyright © 2009 by Viacheslav Yatsko

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