May 14 (UPI) — Friction between Japan and Russia is rising after a Japanese lawmaker urged other politicians to declare war against Russia to «regain» the Kuril Islands.
Hotaka Maruyama, 35, visited one of the four Kuril Islands from Friday to Monday without a visa. During a meeting on Saturday, Murayama had asked a Japanese man whether he is in favor of or against a war with Russia, the Mainichi Shimbun and Nikkan Sports reported Tuesday.
When the man said he did not want to use the word «war,» Maruyama chided the people present for their restraint. Maruyama was also criticized for not acting appropriately on Russian-administered territory, according to reports.
Russian diplomats have condemned the statements from the lawmaker, a member of the Japan Restoration Party, a minor conservative party that stresses Japanese nationalism and right-wing populism among its core values.
Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, strongly criticized the incident, calling it the «worst event that has ever happened in the flow of relations between Japan and Russia.»
By Monday evening, Maruyama issued an apology, and said he was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
«It was an inappropriate remark,» Maruyama said. «I sincerely apologize and rescind my remarks.»
The lawmaker has previously caused controversy, according to South Korean newspaper Korea Times.
In 2015 Maruyama bit the hand of another customer at a bar in Tokyo. Following the incident, the lawmaker had pledged to stop drinking and to step down from office in the future if he caused trouble.
Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Maruyama’s latest remarks are «truly regrettable,» adding Japan’s resolve to approach the territorial dispute through the signing of a peace treaty is «unchanged.»
The Japan Restoration Party has dismissed Maruyama.
In 2018, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to accelerate talks on the Kuril Islands based on a 1956 joint declaration; the Soviet Union had at the time agreed to return two of the disputed islands after the signing of a peace treaty, but no progress has been made in 2019.