MADRID/SEOUL -- President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that he believes an 18th-century map he was shown by Spain’s Senate library demonstrates Dokdo has always been a part of Korea, Cheong Wa Dae said.
Moon, who flew to Spain after a summit in Austria, is wrapping up his three-day state visit Thursday. He began his Europe trip last week with the G-7 summit in England.
The map, which was produced in 1737 and is believed to be the oldest one drawn by a European, shows the Dokdo islets as part of Joseon -- the kingdom that preceded modern-day Korea -- according to the presidential office.
Recently, the feud over Dokdo, which Japan claims as its territory, threatened to strain already sour ties. Tokyo called off a prearranged sideline meeting with Seoul at the G-7 summit because of South Korea’s plans for military drills around the islets, according to a Seoul official.
Japan denied that the two sides had any prior arrangement. The report that Tokyo canceled a gathering at the last minute was “extremely regrettable,” said Katsunobu Kato, the Japanese government’s top spokesman. He said Tokyo had called on Seoul to cancel the military drills involving Dokdo.
The drills, held biannually since 1986, took place Tuesday as planned, with the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard all joining the exercise, which aims at boosting readiness to protect the islets in case of an outside attack.
The two Asian neighbors are expected to continue sparring over the decadeslong dispute in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics in July. Japan recently rejected Korea’s demand that Tokyo stop using an Olympic map that marks Dokdo as its territory, prompting Seoul to ask the International Olympics Committee to intervene.
Some Korean politicians even suggested boycotting the games, and the latest local poll found a majority of Koreans favoring the proposal. According to a poll conducted last week by WingKorea on 1,017 people aged 18 and above, 53 percent of the respondents approved of the idea.
But Seoul’s Foreign Ministry is distancing the government from calls for a boycott.
“Skipping the Olympics is not and has not been under consideration,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said.
The Moon government, which has little time left to repair worsening Seoul-Tokyo ties before Moon leaves office in May next year, is showing greater flexibility to try dialogue to address disputes with Japan.
But the shift in tone alone does not seem to have convinced Japan to come out for talks.
Tokyo is adamant that Seoul suggest ways to work out disputes involving a series of Korean court decisions since 2018, which resulted in some of Japan’s largest companies being ordered to compensate Koreans who were forced to work for them during World War II.
Korean wartime laborers and sex slaves -- called “comfort women” -- won cases brought against the Japanese government for damages. But the Japanese government refuses to uphold the rulings, arguing that the 1965 treaty the two countries signed had settled their claims “completely and finally.”
Some speculate that Moon might use the Olympics to reconnect with his Japanese counterpart at the last minute, though many see it as unlikely that Moon would make the necessary concessions to make that happen.
By Choi Si-young and Joint Press Corps (email@example.com