KUSHIRO, HOKKAIDO – An opposition lawmaker was expelled from his party Tuesday amid growing criticism over 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.
House of Representatives member Hodaka Maruyama on Tuesday submitted a letter of resignation to Nippon Ishin no Kai after he asked the head of a group of former residents of the islands whether he would support a war with Russia. Later in the day, the party decided to expel Maruyama rather than accept his resignation.
“His acts and remarks were inexcusable as a national lawmaker. This is also a serious issue in terms of diplomacy. I think he should resign as a lawmaker,” said Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, who also heads Nippon Ishin.
Maruyama was accompanying about 60 people visiting Kunashiri Island off Hokkaido from Friday through Monday under a visa-free exchange program between Japan and Russia.
On Saturday night, while drinking heavily during his stay on Kunashiri, he made a series of gaffes in conversations with the head of the group, Koyata Otsuka. He reportedly asked, “Do you support, or oppose, getting back this island by war?” He was also quoted by the group as saying, “Is there any way (to solve the issue) if we don’t have a war?”
Otsuka replied that he did not want to use the word “war” to discuss the territorial dispute, according to the group.
Maruyama retracted the remarks as he faced reporters in Tokyo Monday night.
“I apologize for making many people feel uncomfortable. I would like to retract my inappropriate remarks,” he said. “I lacked consideration for former islanders.”
On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Maruyama’s remark was “extremely regrettable.”
“Our position remains that we will seek to resolve the territorial issue and sign a peace treaty through diplomacy,” Suga said.
Noting that Maruyama’s remark does not reflect Tokyo’s official stance in any way, the top government spokesman brushed off concerns that it could affect future negotiations over the territorial dispute. At the moment, Tokyo has no plan to provide Moscow with an official explanation about the comments, he said.
Kunashiri is one of the four Russia-held, Japan-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.