South Korea plans to begin full-scale work to renovate a heliport on Dokdo if Japan lays renewed claim to the rocky islets in the East Sea in its new school textbooks, officials said Sunday.
The planned renovation of the outdated, 20-square-meter heliport is among a set of countermeasures that are being considered if Tokyo presses ahead with the endorsement this week of middle school textbooks that clearly describe Dokdo as Japan's territory, the officials added. Tokyo's announcement is expected around Wednesday.
Japan's claim to Dokdo, the waters around which are rich in fish and natural resources, is a longstanding source of diplomatic spats between the neighboring nations despite their growing economic and cultural exchanges.
South Korea maintains a coast guard unit on Dokdo as a show of its effective control of the otherwise uninhabited islets. Some South Koreans also make one-day trips there.
"The government has called for the Japanese government to handle the issue prudently through various channels so that it does not have negative effects on South Korea-Japan relations," a senior South Korean government official said on the condition of anonymity.
"Nonetheless, if the Japanese side pushes ahead with the description of its sovereignty over Dokdo, we will take stern countermeasures which include the renovation work on the Dokdo heliport," he added.
The heliport was constructed in 1981 for use of police choppers. South Korea has already earmarked 900 million won ($800,000) for the renovation work.
The official made clear that Seoul will draw a line between the Dokdo issue and its help with Japan's recovery from earthquake and tsunami damages.
South Korea dispatched a 100-strong search-and-rescue team to Japan shortly after it was battered by the natural disasters on March 11. The South Korean government has promised maximum support for Japan.
A growing number of South Koreans has expressed sympathy for Japanese people and joined donation campaigns, putting behind a long history of animosity toward Japan, which brutally colonized Korea from 1910-45.
Officials expected the mood to help South Korea and Japan to improve political and emotional ties.