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Seoul may ban Japan lawmakers’ trip

Foreign minister warns Tokyo to end Korean Air boycott over Dokdo


Japan has more to lose than gain from its recent boycott against South Korea’s main airline, as such a move is far from enough to undermine South Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo islets or Korean Air’s business, the Foreign Ministry here said Tuesday.

Last week, Japanese foreign minister instructed officials to refrain from using Korean Air flights for one month starting this week in response to the airline’s June 16 test flight of its new Airbus 380 above Korea’s easternmost islets.

“I seriously wonder if we even need to react to this measure which does not seem to have a clear meaning or effect,” ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told a regular press briefing in Seoul.

“Japan is abandoning the expectation of not only Korea, but the international society, by not accepting our request to withdraw the plan.”

The Seoul government expressed regret and demanded an immediate withdrawal of the planned boycott last week. The Foreign Ministry here also immediately summoned Hideaki Mizukoshi, a diplomatic minister for political affairs at the Japanese embassy, to lodge a protest, but Tokyo has not accepted the demand.

“This does not change in any way the fact that Dokdo belongs to Korea,” said Cho.

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

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.

The South Korean government often reacts quietly toward Japan’s claim, believing it does not need to make a big issue out of what already belongs to the country.

South Korea is also “open to all possibilities” in dealing with a purported visit to South Korea’s Ulleung Island next month by a group of Japanese lawmakers. Ulleung Island is Korea’s administrative and military defense base for Dokdo.

Last week, Shindo Yoshitaka, a lawmaker of Japan’s opposition Liberal Democratic Party, told a press conference in Tokyo that he would tour the island on Aug. 2-3, along with three other DLP lawmakers.

Seoul, which keeps a naval defense base on Ulleung Island, plans to build a maritime research center on the island, with some facilities to be installed on nearby Dokdo.

Seoul “does not want to think about the worst scenario,” but a prohibition of entry “is also among all possible options,” said spokesman Cho.

The government has “already delivered such a position” to Shinsuke Sugiyama, the Japanese chief nuclear envoy, upon his Monday visit to Seoul, and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan also plans to bring up the issue during his talks with his Japanese counterpart during this week’s regional forum in Indonesia, he said.

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