Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae-oh and Grand National Party chair Hong Joon-pyo need to calm down from their irritation about Japanese lawmakers’ plan to visit Ulleung-do, an island in the East sea, next week. They rightly understand that the Japanese politicians’ ulterior motive is to raise controversy about the nearby Dokdo, but we should just treat them as some of the numerous Japanese tourists coming to Korea, no more, no less.
Varying comments are heard about the Japanese politicians’ visit plan. Some angrily assert that they should not be allowed into the country let alone onto the East Sea island while others propose offering them a guided tour of Ulleung-do.
Japanese Kyodo News reported that opposition Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers Yoshitaka Shindo, Katsuei Hirasawa, Tomomi Inata and Masahisa Sato plan to visit Korea on Aug. 1-4 and stay on Ulleung-do on Aug. 2 and 3. Because of the visa waiver arrangement between the two countries, they do not need to get an entry visa for the trip. Yet, the justice minister can bar a foreigner’s entry when there is sufficient reason that he or she could cause harm to Korea’s national interest or public security.
Among the objectors, Special Affairs Minister Lee, a close aide to President Lee Myung-bak, vowed that he would use all in his authority to deter the visit. Rep. Lee Sang-deuk, an influential member of the ruling Grand National Party who is the Korean-side chair of the Korea-Japan Parliamentary League, has privately asked his Japanese friends to dissuade the Diet members from making the trip.
On the other hand, Kwon Chul-hyun, who was the Korean ambassador to Tokyo until last March, says that there is neither justification nor need to obstruct the trip. He surmised that what the Japanese lawmakers ultimately want is to get involved in a confrontation with Korean objectors, thereby drawing political spotlights to the territorial dispute over Dokdo as well as to themselves. Some civic groups recommended giving the visitors a historical briefing at the Dokdo Museum on Ulleung-do.
Coming on the heels of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s “ban” on the use of Korean Air for Tokyo government officials in retaliation for the Korean national flag carrier’s recent demonstration flight over Dokdo with its new Airbus A-380, the Japanese politicians’ travel plan surely causes frowns here for their unfriendly intent. Yet, we find little reason to feel particularly uncomfortable when the Japanese group steps on Ulleung-do as tourists. If they engage in any political action on the island, then they may be treated accordingly.
We would rather suggest they climb to Seongin-bong Peak on Ulleung-do and possibly observe Dokdo if the air is clear. They would then realize the geographical proximity of Korea’s eastern-most territory, which is located 80 kilometers from Ulleung-do and 150 kilometers from the nearest Japanese island of Oki. Who knows they may rethink their ideas about their government’s territorial claim to Dokdo? If they seek to visit Dokdo next time, the government may consider issuing a permit with its sovereign authority.
The Japanese lawmakers are believed to have got the idea of visiting Ulleung-do from the episode of three Korean opposition Assemblymen’s visit to the Russian-held Kunashiri of the Kurile Islands last May. While we could not recognize any positive significance in the Korean group’s 50-minute landing on the site of a territorial dispute between Japan and Russia, we find the Japanese lawmakers’ plan to Ulleung-do visit even more meaningless. The best thing they can expect from the visit may be getting eggs thrown at them by Ulleung-do residents, but people there would not be so agitated by their presence.
The peoples of the two countries, especially politicians and civil servants, need to act more maturely and responsibly over the Dokdo issue and avoid shaking the bilateral partnership with unnecessarily provocative gestures. Particular warnings should go to attempts to use the Dokdo controversy in domestic partisan politics or to gain public attention ahead of elections.