Surprise move seen as reaffirming claim to islets; Japan protests strongly
President Lee Myung-bak visited Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo on Friday in an apparent bid to reassert the country’s control over the windswept outcrops that Japan has claimed for decades.
Lee landed on Dokdo by helicopter at around 2 p.m. and took a long look around there. He stopped at nearby Ulleungdo earlier in the day.
“Dokdo is truly our territory worth protecting with our lives. Let’s protect this with pride,” Lee said after he was briefed by the guards.
President Lee Myung-bak visits Dokdo on Friday. (The Korea Herald)
During the 70-minute visit, Lee paid his respects at the monument commemorating those who lost their lives serving their duty in Dokdo and expressed gratitude to the islets’ only two civilian residents, Kim Seong-do and Kim Shin-il. After looking around the facilities, Lee shared fried chicken and pizza with the coast guards.
The environment and culture ministers accompanied Lee. Cheong Wa Dae said the plan was aimed at stressing the conservation of the ecologically important islands, cautioning against “overanalyzing.”
“There should be nothing abnormal in a national leader’s visit to a place that is our territory,” an official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
President Lee Myung-bak(right) is briefed by a police officer on Dokdo on Friday. (The Korea Herald)
Nonetheless, the watershed trip infuriated Tokyo, whose increasingly strident territorial claim has often soured ties between the two Asian powers.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba on Friday morning urged the Korean government to call off the outing. The archipelago country reportedly plans to summon Muto Masatoshi, its ambassador to Seoul.
Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata declared that he will visit the Yasukuni shrine on Aug. 15, which marks Tokyo’s surrender that ended World War II in 1945. The place honors war dead including the most serious convicted war criminals.
“If (Lee’s) visit is made, it would run counter our country’s stance. We strongly urge its cancelation,” Genba told reporters in Tokyo, adding it would “definitely have a large impact” on bilateral relations.
President Lee Myung-bak(sixth from right) looks at taegeukgi, the national flag of Korea, on Dokdo on Friday. (The Korea Herald)
Tokyo has claimed ownership over Dokdo, which it calls Takeshima, via educational guidelines and government papers. Seoul has maintained control since 1953 with a small batch of maritime police officers and plans to expand research in the area.
The set of small volcanic outcroppings lie in rich fishing grounds believed to have large natural gas reserves and other resources buried beneath them.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)