Southern Kuriles/Northern Territories: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited an island claimed by Moscow and Tokyo on Monday, sparking a diplomatic row with Japan as it struggles to mend ties with rising rival China.
Medvedev`s visit to the island, one of four known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, was likely to snarl ties with Japan ahead of an Asia-Pacific leaders summit that Japan will host in mid-November.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan quickly expressed regret over the visit -- the first by a Russian leader.
"Japan`s stance is that those four northern islands are part of our country`s territory, so the president`s visit is very regrettable," Kan told a parliamentary panel.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said any such visit would "hurt the feelings of the Japanese people." Maehara said last month a visit by Medvedev would severely harm relations.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, the cabinet`s No.2., told a news conference that Japan would monitor Russia`s comments and actions for the time being, but Jiji news agency said that Japan had protested to Russia`s envoy over the visit.
Kan, whose support ratings have sunk to around 40 percent after five months in office, has already seen ties with China sour after Japan in September detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese patrol ships near disputed isles in the East China Sea.
Hopes that relations between Asia`s two biggest economies were on the mend were dashed on the weekend, when China abruptly canceled a planned meeting between Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Hanoi.
The dispute with Beijing has raised concerns about fallout for business. China became Japan`s biggest trade partner last year, replacing the United States.