Japan’s lawmaker to leave party over remarks about possible war with Russia

A sunken vessel is seen near the Island of Kunashiri, one of four islands known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. Photo: REUTERS file

OSAKA, May 14, 2019, Japan Today. An opposition lawmaker said Tuesday he will resign from his party amid growing criticism for his remarks on the possibility of Japan waging war with Russia to regain control of a group of islands at the center of a territorial spat, reported the Japan Today.

House of Representatives member Hodaka Maruyama tendered a letter to leave the Japan Innovation Party after he had asked the head of a group of former residents of the islands whether he would support a war with Russia.

Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, who heads the party, told reporters, Maruyama should quit as a lawmaker. He also said the party is considering expelling Maruyama, 35, rather than accepting his resignation letter.

“I feel very sorry for the Russian people,” Matsui said, adding he wants to ask the government to convey an apology through diplomatic routes, noting the remarks may have a negative impact on the ongoing territorial talks between Tokyo and Moscow.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made the return of the islands one of his top priorities, seeks to make a breakthrough in his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described Maruyama’s remarks, which were made when he was drunk, as “extremely regrettable.”

The top government spokesman said at a press conference that there is no change in Tokyo’s stance to solve the territorial issue through diplomatic negotiations.

Maruyama was accompanying about 60 people visiting Kunashiri Island off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido from Friday through Monday under a visa-free exchange program between Japan and Russia. He made the remarks in question on Saturday.

Kunashiri is one of the four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, which also include Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

Tokyo asserts the seizure of the islands by the Soviet Union following Japan’s World War II surrender in 1945 was illegal, while Moscow maintains it was a legitimate result of the war.

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