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The government is set to delay the planned release later this week of its annual report on national defense policies, as it seeks to avoid inflaming a territorial dispute with South Korea ahead of a key anniversary related to bilateral ties next month, according to sources.

The rare decision reflects Tokyo’s eagerness to avoid any action that could provoke South Korean protests ahead of the Aug. 29 centenary of Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula, as the paper, already partly printed, describes a disputed pair of islets as an integral part of Japanese territory, the sources said.

But on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku only said the defense paper “needs some more time for editing so it can include how the international community has dealt with the issue of a South Korean warship” torpedoed by North Korea.

Sengoku denied any link between the delay of the paper’s release and Tokyo’s territorial row with Seoul.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan had been scheduled to approve the report Friday.

The OK is likely to be delayed until around September, they said, a decision that could spark criticism from conservatives who would see such a move as weak-kneed diplomacy.

The bilateral dispute involves two South Korean-controlled islets and numerous small reefs called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

They lie midway between the two countries in the Sea of Japan.

In its annual defense and foreign policy reports, Japan describes Takeshima as part of its territory, provoking criticism from South Korea.

Ahead of the centennial, Seoul has asked Tokyo through diplomatic channels to drop such a description from this year’s report, the sources said.

But Japan will not delete its claim to the islets from the defense white paper, even if it delays publication to September, according to the sources. The government has already printed around 1,000 copies of the report.

Earlier this month in Seoul, a South Korean man threw a stone at the Japanese ambassador to South Korea over the territorial issue, prompting Seoul to apologize to Tokyo.

Tokyo is considering restating its apology for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula on the centenary, government sources said earlier.

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