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Backgrounder: Importance of Southern Kuril Islands

02-12-2011 09:39 BJT

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The Southern Kuril Islands dispute has always been a sticking point in Russia-Japan relations. James Kim tells why these 4 islands hold so much importance for both countries.

The Kuril Islands are a chain of 56 volcanic islands off the Northeast coast of Asia, extending for 1200 kilometers from the south tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia to Northeast Hokkaido.

The dispute stems from dual claims over 4 Southern Kuril Islands, also known as the Northern Territories in Japan.

The Soviet Union seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril islands following the end of World War II, but Japan maintains a claim to the four southernmost islands of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and the Habomai rocks.

These four islands, covering an area of about 5000 square kilometers, hold great strategic significance. The Kurils are the gateway to the sea of Okhotsk, which lies off the coast of Russia's far east. Control of the islands have been crucial for Russia, which has given it access to the Pacific Ocean.

Russia has built a military base on Shikotan island, while also placing border forces on the four islands.

On top of the military importance, the islands hold vast mineral wealth, together with about 160 million tons of natural gas and nearly 1,900 tons of gold and other valuable metals like silver, titanium, sulfur and rhenium. The total value of the four islands have been estimated to 50 billion US dollars.

Editor:Zhang Jingya |Source: CNTV.CN

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