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Seoul boosts ‘practical control’ over Dokdo

Construction of ocean research station to begin in April in waters near islets


From planting trees to building installations and selling bits of land to ordinary citizens, South Korea is eying several long-term plans aimed at strengthening its sovereignty to counter Japan’s repeated claims over its easternmost islets of Dokdo.

Japan strengthened its claims the Dokdo islets in its revised textbooks last week, provoking Seoul to release an official statement condemning the move and vow dozens of countermeasures feared to weaken bilateral ties.

Tokyo has for years laid territorial claims over the South Korean islets and glorified its wartime past in textbooks for young students, often providing a stumbling block to mending ties with Korea, which was victim to its 1910-45 colonial rule.

The announcement came at a sensitive time for Koreans, who have been making efforts to help the neighboring country cope with the aftermath of the March 11 quake and Tsunami that killed thousands of people.

During a meeting with ruling party legislators Monday, the government announced that construction work to build an ocean research station in waters about 1 kilometer northwest of Dokdo will begin this month.

The plan is among some 28 projects which were first mapped out in 2008 to strengthen “practical control” over the almost inhabited islets.

The ruling Grand National Party hosted the Monday meeting with related ministries and state-run organizations.

Some 43 billion won will be spent to build the 2,700-square-meter metal station, which will be completed by December this year, government officials said during the meeting, adding several sophisticated pieces of meteorological equipment will be installed to examine the sea, weather and other changes.
Lawmakers and government officials discuss measures against Japan’s territorial claims over Dokdo at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap News)
Lawmakers and government officials discuss measures against Japan’s territorial claims over Dokdo at the National Assembly on Monday. (Yonhap News)

The Seoul government also plans to build a 295-meter-long breakwater so ships can reach the islets more easily and also complete building a residential institute on Dokdo by next month.

Seoul will also repair a heliport on Dokdo by May this year, distribute related education materials to elementary schools nationwide, build a Dokdo education center, and launch Russian and Chinese language websites to internationally promote its sovereignty over the islets, officials also revealed during Monday’s meeting.

Some 1,000 teachers and students are to visit Dokdo this summer as the first in the plan for regular school fieldtrips backed by the government, they added.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kim Eul-dong of the minority Future Hope Alliance said she plans to submit a motion calling for ordinary people’s ownership of Dokdo.

Under the bill, some 56,800 people will each be able to own some 3.3 square meters, or 1 pyeong, of Dokdo, symbolically showing that the islets belong to the Korean people, Kim said in a press release.

The Korea Forest Service said it will spend some 180 million won this year as part of its plan to recover and establish new forests on Dokdo to not only preserve the forest ecosystem but also to strengthen sovereignty over the islets.

Dokdo, called Takeshima by the Japanese, is a group of small islets that lies in rich fishing grounds in the East Sea which could also contain large gas deposits.

Dismissing Tokyo’s claim as nonsense, South Korea has had Coast Guard officers stationed in Dokdo since 1954. Two citizens ― a fisherman and his wife ― live on the islets.

Japan last week authorized 18 of the 23 history, geography and ethics middle school textbooks it has been reviewing for a year, 12 of them claiming Dokdo belongs to their country and four stating that South Korea is “illegally occupying” its territory.

The 18 textbooks which have passed the Tokyo government’s review are expected to be used in schools from April next year after its education committee officially approves their use in July, according to the Foreign Ministry here.

Japan, which laid similar claims over Dokdo while reviewing its elementary school books in March last year, will announce its diplomatic and defense papers in April and July this year, respectively, upping conflicts with Seoul.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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