New joint venture plan for disputed isles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am

Chinese and Russian fisheries firms are planning to set up another joint venture off disputed islands claimed by both Russia and Japan.

Officials from the Russian Fisheries Agency said an unnamed Chinese firm was planning to set up a joint venture to farm scallops off the island of Shikotan, one of the islands in the Kurils, north of Hokkaido, Kyodo reported yesterday.

Another planned joint venture between Chinese and Russian firms, to farm sea cucumbers off Kunashir also in the Kurils, was revealed on Tuesday.

The islands, controlled by Russia since the end of the second world war, are known in Japan as the Northern Territories.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said yesterday he noted recent reports on the Chinese ventures but he had no knowledge of them, adding that China hoped Moscow and Tokyo would settle their bilateral dispute.

Russian fisheries officials did not give details of the Shikotan venture but said Chinese and South Korean companies were planning to set up fisheries businesses in what Russia calls the Southern Kurils, including three companies from Dalian, Liaoning, Kyodo reported.

It said Tokyo believed acceptance of third-country investments in the disputed islands would effectively mean recognising Russian control.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara raised the issue with his South Korean counterpart in Tokyo on Wednesday and reiterated Tokyo's claim of sovereignty, Kyodo said.

Meanwhile, Japanese media said Maehara was planning to visit Beijing in April, making him the first senior Japanese official to visit China since the collision of a Chinese trawler and two of the country's coastguard vessels in September.

However, Sino-Japanese experts said China did not expect his trip would help resolve any disputes between Beijing and Tokyo.

They believe Maehara's motivation to visit Beijing is to rescue the Democratic Party of Japan from a domestic political crisis. 'I think Beijing will give Maehara a low-profile welcome ceremony when he comes because we know he aims to accumulate personal political capital from this trip,' said Assistant Professor Gui Yongtao of Peking University's School of International Studies.

'It's possible that Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will step down because a poll in Japan shows that his popularity has fallen to a new low.'

Additional reporting by Matt Ho