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Russian tourism plan worries Japan

MOSCOW >> The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin is actively developing tourism in the northern territories of Japan without input from Japan. The two nations are expected to promote joint tourism activities on the four islands, but Russia’s unilateral actions seem to be aimed at cementing its occupation of the islands.

On March 4, a senior official of the state of Sakhalin in Russia’s Far East, which oversees the northern territories, presented its tourism development plan. According to Russia’s Interfax news agency and other sources, a five-year project was announced to develop a year-round facility that includes ski resorts, golf courses, hot springs and a 700-room hotel at the foot of Mount Baransky on Etorofu Island.

The four islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, the Habomai islets and Shikotan — comprise a total area of about 1,930 square miles, with a population of about 18,000. The locale is to be called the “Southern Kuril Islands” and will focus on eco­tourism, featuring untouched nature on Kunashiri and Shikotan.

There is concern that if the number of foreign visitors with Russian visas increases, it could be easy for the country to claim the islands as its territory.

“This is incompatible with Japan’s position on the four islands,” said a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.

The Putin administration has hardened its stance, saying “we can’t even debate” the issue with Japan.

Despite the tension, Russia is still eager to cooperate economically with Japan. Financing its plan might be a challenge, and Russia could approach Japan about joining the project.

In 2016, Japan and Russia agreed to discuss joint economic activities, including from their private sectors.

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