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Japan is closely watching Russian military developments in the Far East, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Wednesday, a day after it was reported that Moscow plans to deploy antiship cruise missiles near Hokkaido.

Edano said at a news conference the government believes it is important for the two countries to foster communications and avoid an unnecessary arms race in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Our country is keeping a close watch on Russia’s military trends in the Far East,” he said.

Edano’s remarks came after the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday that Russia will deploy antiship cruise missiles and an advanced air defense system in its Far East region, including the four islands off Hokkaido that Japan wants returned.

The official of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces said Russia will set up Yakhont antiship missiles and the Tor-M2 missile shield, according to the news agency.

The cruise missiles could be deployed on Etorofu and Kunashiri, two of the four disputed islands.

Such a move would doubtlessly provoke a backlash from Japan.

The Yakhont missile has a range of 200 km to 300 km and can travel at better than the speed of sound. If installed on Etorofu and Kunashiri, they could reach parts of Hokkaido.

The Tor-M2 system can launch four missiles at four targets at once and would dramatically improve defense capabilities near the four islands.

Russia also plans to deploy to Etorofu Island some Mi28 helicopters, which carry antitank missiles, Interfax quoted the official as saying.

The official was quoted as saying a buildup plan for the Kuril Islands area has already been submitted to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

The plan presumably includes the deployments of the Yakhont missiles and the Tor-M2 system.

The moves came after President Dmitry Medvedev said in early February that Russia will consolidate its presence in the Kuril Islands, seeing them as a strategic region. First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin has said state-of-the-art equipment will be installed in the region.

Tokyo and Moscow have been at odds over the sovereignty of the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s World War II surrender. The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Territorial row talks

Japan and Russia discussed their bilateral territorial row Wednesday over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido at a strategic dialogue involving vice ministers in Tokyo, following up on a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers last month in Moscow.

Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae and Andrei Denisov, Russian first deputy foreign minister, also covered bilateral economic exchanges and cooperation in seeking the denuclearization of North Korea, Japanese officials said.

The strategic dialogue, launched in 2007 and last held in January 2010, comes at a time when bilateral ties have reached the lowest point in years over a rekindled dispute over the Russian-held islands.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, were unable to reach agreement in their February meeting over the decades-old territorial spat, which was reignited after President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Kremlin leader to visit one of the four isles last November.

Sasae and Denisov agreed that the next round of strategic talks will be held in Moscow and that the schedule will be arranged through diplomatic channels.

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