Pyongyang yesterday criticized Japan for Tokyo’s recent complaints over the presence of North Korean fishing boats in Russia’s territorial waters near the disputed Kuril Islands. An official newspaper commentary said that North Korea had been authorized by Russia to fish in the waters off the south Kuril Islands and suggested that Japan’s protests amounted to unwanted interference in North Korean affairs. The newspaper commentary also said that the presence of North Korean boats in the waters off the Kurils was authorized by a Russian-North Korean agreement which was signed in 1997 and came into force on September 1 of this year (Xinhua, October 19).
The North Korean action was a response to a protest filed by Japan early last week with the Russian embassy in Tokyo. Japanese authorities complained that some twenty North Korean boats had been seen fishing near the island of Shikotan–one of the four Russian-controlled south Kuril Islands that are claimed by Japan. The Japanese protest referred to a Russian-Japanese agreement regulating fishing by Japanese boats near the Kurils in its arguing that the North Korean boats had no business being there. The Japanese government reportedly demanded that Moscow move immediately to withdraw any license issued to North Korea allowing its boats to fish near the islands (Kyodo, October 12; Itar-Tass, October 15).
On October 13, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the Japanese protest. A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying that Russia has the authority to make its own decisions on who is to fish off the Kuril Islands because the area is part of Russia’s economic zone (Kyodo, October 13).
Last week’s spat between Russia and Japan over fishing near the Kuril Islands is but the latest example of a case in which a disagreement over fishing rights has reflected the broader conflict between the two countries over control of the islands. The license granted to the North Koreans to fish near the Kurils appears intended in part to gall the Japanese–who spent some three years negotiating a fishing treaty of their own with Moscow–and in part to demonstrate once again Moscow’s sovereignty over the islands and its power to administer them as it pleases.
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