Korea on Tuesday protested Japan’s renewed claim to the islets of Dokdo in its new defense white paper that added to the strain on their relations.
In the annual document, Tokyo identified the windswept islets in the East Sea as its territory and said the sovereignty feud “remains unresolved.”
The description has been rehashed since 2005. The paper also carries a map of Japan’s air defense identification zone, in which Dokdo is denoted by the Japanese name of Takeshima and the skies over the outcrops as its territorial airspace.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry summoned Sasayama Takuya, a minister at the Japanese Embassy, to stage a protest, while the Defense Ministry called in a defense attache.
University students protest Japan’s defense policies outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
“We cannot accept Japan’s unjust argument and sternly urge its immediate withdrawal and measures to prevent a relapse,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Noh Kwang-il said in a statement, adding that the claim attests to the country’s resolve to remain unrepentant for its imperial past and colonial atrocities.
“We cannot but question the true intentions of the Japanese government as it says it strives to improve the two countries’ relationship while continuing behavior that instead deteriorates it.”
Japan has for decades claimed ownership over Dokdo through textbooks, diplomatic and defense papers and other outlets.
The latest edition appears to be focused more on addressing an increasingly assertive China and its ongoing territorial row with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku or Diaoyu.
The document reflected the Shinzo Abe administration’s recent constitutional reinterpretation that made way for it to exercise collective self-defense, while explaining its push for a “proactive contribution to peace” such as through expanded peacekeeping operations.
It also expresses concerns over growing nuclear and missile threats by North Korea.
“China has been displaying high-handed responses over issues of conflicts of interests in the sea, attempting to change the status quo by force,” it reads.
The latest friction is set to complicate the efforts by Seoul and Tokyo to bring their severely strained relations back on track, with their foreign ministers seeking fence-mending talks at a regional security conference in Myanmar next week.
Located between the two countries, the set of small volcanic islets lies in ample fishing grounds is believed to hold large reserves of natural gas and other resources.
Tokyo illegally incorporated the islets in 1905 in the run up to a full-fledged occupation of the peninsula. Seoul regained control of them after its 1945 independence, with a small batch of coast guards protecting the islets at present.
The territorial claim, coupled with Tokyo’s repeated distortion of historical facts and failure to apologize for its sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, has taken its toll on the bilateral ties. Seoul regards Dokdo as the first part of Korean territory that fell victim to Japanese colonial rule in 1910-45.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com