Japan and Korea begin Dokdo/Takeshima spat anew
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Japan and Korea begin Dokdo/Takeshima spat anew

While the dispute between Korea and Japan over some small islets both claim does not have the impact of similar disputes between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands or the Spratly Island dust up between China and half of Southeast Asia, it has a persistence and emotional impact that rivals either of them.  That is especially true for Koreans, who see the dispute as a legacy of the 1910-1945 colonial era.

The islets in question are Dokdo (Takeshima to the Japanese), two piles of rocks in the Sea of Japan (East Sea to Koreans, they can’t seem to agree on anything).  As far as anyone can tell, the economic impact of the islets is much less than that of other disputed islands around Asia; we talking in terms of fish rather than oil or major trade routes.

There are claims and counter-claims between Korea and Japan going back at least a century (and likely several centuries).  President Syngman Rhee ordered South Korean troops to seize the islets in 1952 and they have been under Korean control ever since.

That has not stopped Tokyo from claiming the islets, nor has it stopped Japanese politicians from doing silly things in the hopes of buttressing Tokyo’s claim.


Dokdo Islets as seen from Korean Air A380 flight on June 16, 2011.

The latest round of silliness began last month when Korea Airlines flew one of its shiny new Airbus A380s over the islets.  In response, Tokyo ordered all Japanese government officials to avoid using the carrier for one month.

To pile on, several Japanese lawmakers say that they plan to visit the nearby Korean island of Uleungdo to assert Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo.  That is the closest they can get to the islets since they are controlled by the South Korean Maritime Police.

Naturally, such a visit would arouse an angry reaction from Uleungdo residents and ignite protests against the Japanese there and is Seoul.  That is probably just what the Japanese lawmakers want: to show that there is indeed a conflict over the islets.

Well, the South Korean government is going to have none of that.  An official in South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that, one way or another, the Japanese lawmakers will not make that trip:

At this stage, we focus on making diplomatic efforts to let the Japanese lawmakers voluntarily withdraw their visit.  In case that the Japanese lawmakers visit despite our efforts, however, we are considering banning them from entering the nation by applying an immigration law.

The law in question allows immigration officials to block people whom the government believes will “undermine the interests of the nation or the safety of the public.”

Considering the emotion behind the dispute over those piles of rocks, that law may apply on both counts.