Japan, S. Korea again in territorial spat over islets
TOKYO/SEOUL (Kyodo) -- Japan and South Korea on Wednesday once again became embroiled in a territorial dispute over a group of islets, following Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's policy speech to parliament.
The South Korean government strongly criticized Gemba's reference Tuesday to Japan's territorial claim to the islets, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, and demanded he immediately withdraw it.
Gemba said that the territorial dispute is "not one which could be resolved overnight" but he will continue to clearly convey to South Korea that "Japan will not accept what Japan cannot accept."
Gemba's remarks were in line with the government's long-held position that the islets in the Sea of Japan are illegally occupied by South Korea and that it has no basis in international law.
However, it was the first time that the Takeshima issue had been mentioned in a foreign policy address, which is delivered at the start of an ordinary Diet session, since the Democratic Party of Japan swept to power in 2009.
Gemba told a news conference on Wednesday he had decided to mention the territorial dispute after making "a comprehensive judgment" in light of recent developments regarding Takeshima, pointing to a series of visits made last year by South Korean ministers and lawmakers to the islets.
A spokesman at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Gemba's remarks "run counter to the Japanese government's continuously reaffirmed commitment that it will seek to develop the two countries' partnership in a future-oriented way while looking squarely at its past."
The South Korean ministry also called in a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Nobukatsu Kanehara, and lodged a strong protest over Gemba's remarks.
The two countries' diplomatic ties have often become tense over historical issues stemming from Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.
On Wednesday, South Korean foreign minister Kim Sung Hwan invited to his office two former World War II sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women" in Japan, apparently to demonstrate Seoul's uncompromising stance over historical issues.
The meeting was the first between a South Korean foreign minister and women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the war.
Amid falling support ratings, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak last month unexpectedly urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to place priority on resolving the issue of compensation for former sex slaves, when they met in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto.
Japan maintains that the issue has already been settled by a bilateral treaty in 1965 that normalized the countries' diplomatic ties.
During the meeting with Kim, one of the two women, Lee Yong Soo criticized him, saying, "The foreign ministry has been doing nothing for the past 20 years" since the issue started to be more recognized by the public.
"I wonder to which country this ministry belongs" the 83-year-old Lee said.
Mainichi Dairy News 2012.1.26