Tokyo summons Russian ambassador over Medvedev island visit
Tokyo summoned Moscow's ambassador Monday to protest Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to a disputed islet in the Kuril Islands, which the Japanese government condemned as "very regrettable".
"As Japan has kept its position that the four northern islands belong to Japanese territory, the president's visit there is very regrettable," Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament.
Medvedev arrived at Kunashiri island in the southern Kurils on Monday, spending a few hours there before leaving.
The Kuril Islands, which lie north of Japan's Hokkaido island, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, but Tokyo claims the southernmost four as Japanese territory.
Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara summoned Russia's ambassador to Japan, Mikhail Bely, to protest over the visit, Kan said.
But Bely said afterwards that he "told him (Maehara) that it is Russia's domestic issue.
"I requested Japan to deal with it cool-headedly and in a balanced manner," he told reporters, according to Jiji Press.
Maehara had said earlier Monday the visit "hurts Japanese public sentiment and is extremely regrettable".
The dispute is another headache for Kan, whose government has for weeks been embroiled in Japan's worst diplomatic spat for years with China, over disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Voter support for Kan's government dropped by 31 points in October from the previous month in the wake of the row, according to a poll by the business daily Nikkei.
Kan has come under criticism in Japan for his handling of the dispute with Beijing, which was triggered by a ship collision in disputed waters in early September.
After prosecutors freed a Chinese sea captain without indicting him, many in Japan accused Tokyo of capitulating under pressure from Beijing.
Medvedev's visit to the Kurils Monday may complicate Moscow's relations with Tokyo ahead of his visit to Japan in mid-November, when leaders of major nations gather in Yokohama for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
In September, Medvedev called the islands "a very important region of our country" and said that "we will definitely go there in the nearest future," prompting a warning from Japan of worsening ties.
Japanese former residents of the disputed islets voiced anger and frustration over Medvedev's visit Monday.
"In the past 65 years, islanders have suffered hardships that are beyond description," said a group of former island residents in a statement issued Monday. "We didn't want him (Medvedev) to visit."
Shunsuke Hasegawa, Mayor of Nemuro in Japan's Hokkaido, where many former islanders live, said: "We have to further carry on our campaign for the return of the islands."
© 2010 AFP