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Seoul moves to consolidate right to Dokdo

Heliport repair under way, to be completed in May: government source


While cautious not to provoke too much tension as Japan continues to suffer from the aftermath of a powerful quake, South Korea is quietly carrying out projects aimed at countering the neighboring state’s continued claims over its islets of Dokdo, sources here said Thursday.

Japan strengthened its claims over South Korea’s easternmost islets in its revised textbooks the previous day, pushing 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.

Although the “timing is not good” to officially announce the move, Seoul has already begun to repair a heliport on Dokdo as one of the “practical measures” to strengthen the country’s sovereignty over the territory, a government source said.

“The repair work has already begun and is quietly proceeding,” the source said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Another source at the maritime police agency said the facility is expected to be completed and ready for use by May this year.

The Seoul government has for years been reviewing the necessity of renovating the aging heliport, built in 1981, setting aside a budget after experts said the facility must be fully repaired for safety reasons.

Making speed in some 28 projects first envisioned in 2008, South Korea also plans to complete building a residential institute on Dokdo by May this year, more than two months ahead of its previous schedule. The government said it will also build an ocean research station in waters about 1 kilometer northwest of Dokdo by 2013 and a 400-meter-long breakwater so ships can reach the islets more easily.

Dokdo, called Takeshima by the Japanese, are 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.

On Wednesday, Japan 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 the country and four stating 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.

“The government must come up with practical and fundamental measures to stop Japan from repeating such a move each year,” Ahn Sang-soo, leader of the ruling Grand National Party, told a party meeting Thursday. “The fact that Japan authorized the books even as it suffers from the damage of the quake indicates the gravity of this issue.”

Meanwhile, despite the Seoul government’s pledge and effort not to link the textbook issue with the country’s ongoing relief aid, individual donations made to Tokyo are rapidly decreasing following the announcement, the Korean Red Cross said.

“Compared to the first week of collecting donations, the number of individual donations has dropped significantly,” a Red Cross official said. “What’s more, we have also been receiving complaints from people for making large-scale aid to Japan.”

The South Korean government shipped 500 tons of drinking water and pre-cooked rice to Japan on Wednesday as the third shipment made to help the country overcome the disaster. South Korea was also the first country to send a rescue team to Tokyo.

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