EU diplomat says bloc won't punish Britain

Lawmakers’ visit tied to Japan politics

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Published : 2011-08-01 19:27
Updated : 2011-08-01 20:49

 Attempt to visit island could chill bilateral ties, damage economic cooperation


Three Japanese politicians denying Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo arrived at Gimpo airport Monday for an attempted visit to Ulleungdo near Dokdo, despite the Seoul government’s warning that their entry to the country will be barred.

While the South Korean government has tried not to overreact to what is generally viewed here as a group of ultra-rightwingers’ hoping to change their party’s diminished status at home, it cannot be unaffected by the widespread irritation at their incessantly provocative acts. 
Student members of Dokdo Academy stage a rally against the Japanese lawmakers’ entry into Korea at Seoul’s Gimpo Airport on Monday.  (Yonhap News)

The government banned their entry on the grounds of the immigration law which allows the Justice Minister to prohibit the entry of foreigners “deemed highly likely to commit any act detrimental to the interests of the Republic of Korea or public safety.”

In addition to asking the lawmakers to return to Japan, the South Korean government is considering a stronger-than-usual denunciation of Tokyo’s repeated sovereignty claim over Dokdo in its annual defense paper to be issued Tuesday.

President Lee Myung-bak is expected to mention the Dokdo issue in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech, a presidential aide said Monday. It will be the first time Lee addresses a pending issue regarding Japan in his annual address since taking office in 2008. Lee may even visit the easternmost island, according to Hong Yoon-shik, chief of the government task force for territorial control of Dokdo.

A South Korean foreign ministry official said the Japanese lawmakers’ defiance of Seoul’s requests to cancel the trip could deal a blow to the economic cooperation between the two countries and the exchange of high-level visits.

Having let its legislators make their “personal trips” to Ulleungdo, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party appears to have no problem with their actions as long as it makes the ruling Democratic Party of Japan look bad.

The DPJ was criticized at home for its “weak-kneed” handling of the diplomatic row with China last year triggered by a boat collision near the disputed island of Diaoyu, also called Senkaku in Japan. It also failed to keep Russian President Dmitry Medvedev from visiting the disputed Kuril Islands.

Many Japan observers here perceive the LDP legislators’ theatrical move as an unwise cry for attention at the risk of souring relations with South Korea or hurting Japan’s national interests.

“Japanese media have hardly reported the lawmakers’ comments or actions yet, primarily because they are not popular, but they might get the media attention they want if someone throws an egg at them (in Korea), for instance,” said Lee Won-deok, chief of Kookmin University’s Institute of Japanese Studies.

“The intention of the three lawmakers, who constitute an extreme right-wing minority within the DPJ, is to make a big issue out of this for their political interests, and because they do not represent the Japanese government’s position, it would be best to just ignore them.“

But because the Korean government cannot turn a blind eye to the public anger here, it had to do something and thus the ban on their entry, Lee said.

“The Seoul government should, however, refrain from taking actions that can play up the issue because that would not help strengthen our effective control of Dokdo. It would only excite the ultra-rightwingers,” he said.

South Korean politicians, in the meanwhile, flared angry statements at their Japanese counterparts.

“The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party people are picking on Dokdo to save their reduced domestic status,” lawmaker and Minister of Special Affairs Lee Jae-oh said as he departed for Ulleungdo and Dokdo Sunday.

“Our government will take stern countermeasures, but I will go to show the world once again that Dokdo is our territory.”

Rep. Yoo Ki-joon of the ruling Grand National Party, who sits on the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, trade and unification warned that the Japanese lawmakers’ trip ”for such purpose could hurt bilateral relations and will not do any good for Japan’s national interests.“

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)