South Korea, Japan face off over disputed islands
SEOUL - Agence France-Presse
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C) looks at a national flag upon his arrival at the disputed islands. Lee made a surprise visit to islets on Aug 10 at the center of a long-running territorial dispute with Japan, ignoring warnings from Tokyo. AP photos
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak paid an unprecedented visit on Aug. 10 to remote islands disputed with Japan, sparking anger in Tokyo which recalled its ambassador from Seoul in protest.
Lee’s visit came just days before the August 15 anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender, which ended its 35-year rule over Korea.
“I don’t know when he will go back to South Korea,” Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters in Tokyo. “I told him I have no understanding of why President Lee visited the islands at this time,” said the foreign minister, who had warned earlier in the day that a visit “would have a great impact” on relations.
Japanese envoy summoned
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura called the trip “extremely regrettable” at a time when Tokyo was seeking relations with Seoul which looked to the future rather than the past. Gemba said he would meet the envoy early on Aug. 4, for discussions on the issue including what “other measures” Japan could take.
Lee was making the first-ever visit by a South Korean president to the rocky volcanic outcrops in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), whose ownership has been disputed for decades between South Korea and its former colonial ruler Japan. The South has stationed a small coastguard detachment since 1954 on the islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
South Korea last week summoned a senior Japanese diplomat to protest his country’s renewed claim to the islands in its latest defense white paper.
South Korea has announced it will stage a regular military exercise near the islands in mid-August, reportedly involving some 10 warships, plus F-15K fighter jets and other weaponry. The South’s military increased patrols by warplanes and naval ships around Dokdo before Lee’s visit, according to a military official quoted by Yonhap news agency.