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Japan steps up claim to S. Korea-held islets at event amid tensions

  • February 22, 2019
  • , Kyodo News , 5:58 p.m.
  • English Press

MATSUE, Japan — Japan stepped up Friday its claim to a pair of South Korea-controlled islets amid escalating tensions with its neighbor resulting from disputes over wartime issues.


Again this year, lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties attended a ceremony hosted by Japan’s Shimane Prefecture, located near the islets known as Takeshima, saying they have been “illegally occupied” by South Korea.


Hiroshi Ando, a Cabinet Office parliamentary vice minister, who represented the central government at the annual gathering about the islands in the Sea of Japan, said it is clear that Takeshima is an “inherent territory (of Japan) in light of historical facts and international law.”


“We will take a firm attitude to convey our country’s position to the South Korean side,” Ando said, while hundreds of police officers were mobilized on the streets around the venue of the event in the prefectural capital Matsue to avoid scuffles between Japanese right-wing groups and South Korean activists.


As part of efforts to demonstrate its position over the islands, called Dokdo in South Korea, the central government has sent a representative of Ando’s rank each year since 2013.


In a speech, Shimane Gov. Zembee Mizoguchi criticized South Korea, saying, “(It) attempts to make the occupation of Takeshima an established fact through landings by government and parliamentary officials, among other means.”


In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a news conference, “Territory and sovereignty are the foundation of a nation. We will continue to relay information at home and abroad so that our country’s position will be accurately understood.”


The annual ceremony was held at a time when Tokyo and Seoul have been at loggerheads over issues related to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.


In Seoul, civic groups held rallies opposing the ceremony in front of the Japanese Embassy and other places. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also said the kind of annual ceremony should be abolished and urged Japan to stop claiming the islets.


The ceremony has been held every Feb. 22 since 2006 after the prefectural government designated the day as “Takeshima Day” the previous year, a century after Shimane Prefecture declared it had assimilated the islets following Cabinet approval.


The two uninhabited islets, covering a total land area of 0.2 square kilometer, consist of volcanic rock with little vegetation or drinking water. But they are located in a rich fishing ground.


South Korea has stationed security personnel on the disputed islets, located roughly 200 kilometers from either country, since 1954 and taken effective control of them.


The territorial row drew fresh attention after it was recently reported in Japan that South Korean researchers conducted a state-funded survey in waters around the islets and took sediment samples from the seafloor in 2012.


Bilateral ties have already chilled in the wake of South Korean top court rulings in October and November ordering Japanese companies to compensate for their forced labor during World War II and an incident in which a South Korean navy vessel allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December.


In a move that further worsened diplomatic ties, South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee Sang recently called for an apology from Emperor Akihito to resolve a separate historical dispute over women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

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