National / Politics

Japan skirts question about possibility of SDF dispatch to Russian-held islands off Hokkaido

JIJI, Staff Report

The government has skirted a question about the possibility of sending Self-Defense Forces troops to four Russian-held isles off Hokkaido that are at the center of the two countries’ territorial dispute.

In a document adopted at a Cabinet meeting Friday, the government said it is not tackling the issue as a matter that involves the SDF. The northwestern Pacific islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group are referred to in Japan as the Northern Territories. They are known in Russia as the Southern Kurils.

The document was prepared in response to written questions from opposition lawmaker Hodaka Maruyama, who was criticized for war-related remarks about the islands earlier this year.

He asked whether the government thinks that dispatching the SDF is impossible under its interpretation of the Constitution.

The government also said it is patiently working on the issue over the islands under its policy of resolving the territorial row and concluding a World War II peace treaty with Russia.

Asked whether the Japan-U.S. security treaty’s Article 5, which outlines the United States’ defense obligations to Japan, applies to the islands, the government reiterated its position that the islets are out of Japanese administration in practical terms.

Another question from Maruyama was about the possibility of an SDF dispatch to the Seoul-controlled Sea of Japan islets of Takeshima. The government replied it is also patiently working to resolve the situation peacefully.

South Korea calls the islets Dokdo and has a small military base there.

In May, during a visit to one of the four islands with a group of former residents from Japan, Maruyama, then with the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai, alluded that war with Russia was the only way to regain control of the disputed islands off Hokkaido. Criticism over his remarks prompted his expulsion from the party.

In September, Maruyama, by then a member of the fringe NHK Kara Kokumin o Mamoru To (the Party to Protect the People from NHK), made a similar claim that nothing short of conflict would allow Japan to retake the disputed Takeshima islets.