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Japan highlights island claim after Olympic feud

MATSUE, Japan — A representative of the central government joined local officials in western Japan for a ceremony on Thursday to highlight the country’s claim to sovereignty over a group of islets administered by South Korea.


The row over the islets in the Sea of Japan, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, recently extended to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Japan protested the hoisting of a flag showing the islets as part of a unified Korean peninsula at an exhibition match by the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team.


Amid signs of a rapprochement between the two Koreas, a North Korean art troupe touring South Korea to celebrate the Olympics included in one of its performances a song with lyrics asserting that the islets are “also part of our fatherland.”


Yuhei Yamashita, a Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary, represented the central government at the 13th annual “Takeshima Day” ceremony in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, along with Shimane Deputy Gov. Takayuki Fujihara.


Tokyo and Seoul have been contesting ownership of the islets since the early 1950s, which culminated in South Korea dispatching a permanent battalion there in 1954.


The rugged islets, covering a total land area of 0.21 square kilometer, consist of volcanic rock with little vegetation or drinking water. But they are located in a rich fishing ground.


Feb. 22 marks the day in 1905 on which Shimane Prefecture declared it had incorporated the islets following approval by the Japanese government of the time.


The prefecture designated the day as Takeshima Day in 2005 and has held ceremonies in Matsue annually since 2006. The central government has sent a representative of Yamashita’s rank each year since 2013.


The Japanese education ministry unveiled earlier this month its new teaching guidelines for senior high schools, which emphasize that Takeshima is an “inherent territory” of Japan along with the uninhabited Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Japan but claimed by China.


South Korea immediately protested the move.


A similar decision on elementary and junior high school teaching guidelines was made last year.

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