National / Politics

Japanese lawmaker under fire for suggesting war with South Korea says his right to free speech is being suppressed

Kyodo

A minor opposition party lawmaker said on Tuesday his right to free speech is being curtailed by those critical of him for suggesting war with South Korea would settle a territorial dispute between the country and Japan.

“I only raised a question, and there is nothing wrong with it in terms of the Constitution and law. I won’t give in to pressure trying to suppress (free) speech,” Lower House lawmaker Hodaka Maruyama wrote on Twitter.

“What have politicians who are in a position to decide and negotiate done so far?” Maruyama asked, taking issue with what he sees as the Diet’s inaction in protesting defense drills by Seoul and a visit by South Korean lawmakers to a group of disputed islands.

Maruyama, who belongs to NHK Kara Kokumin o Mamoru To (the Party to Protect the People from NHK), tweeted Saturday, “Isn’t war the only way to get them back?” referencing the group of South Korea-controlled, Japan-claimed islands that were recently visited by a group of lawmakers.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over the islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, and the lawmakers’ visit came amid worsening bilateral ties over wartime history and trade policy.

The chill prompted Seoul to terminate an intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo.

Ruling and opposition lawmakers criticized Maruyama’s tweet, which followed similar comments he made over islands off Hokkaido held by Russia but claimed by Japan.

“The government’s policy is to continue diplomatic efforts to resolve the (territorial) issue peacefully based on international law,” Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, minister in charge of territorial issues, said at a news conference called to address the latest controversy.

Maruyama was expelled from the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai after he asked the leader of a group of former Japanese residents of one of the four Russia-held islands, “Do you think there is any alternative to war (to regain control of the islands)?”

Maruyama apologized and retracted the remarks made while on a visit to the islands, but the Diet still passed a rare resolution to rebuke him.

The long-standing dispute over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed last year to step up peace treaty negotiations, but no substantial progress has been made.

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