New territorial row brewing

Tsushima latest flash point after heavy investment by South Koreans

by Jun Hongo

In the latest territorial flap between South Korea and Japan, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voiced concern Wednesday over growing South Korean capital investment in Nagasaki Prefecture’s Tsushima, an island city only 50 km from the Korean Peninsula.

“Numerous numbers of guesthouses and inns for sport fishermen have been purchased by South Koreans,” Lower House member Takeo Hiranuma said at a meeting in Tokyo. “Some land adjacent to Japan Coast Guard property has also been purchased by them.”

In July, 50 South Korean lawmakers handed a resolution to their legislature demanding that the government claim Tsushima, known as Daemado in Korean, as its territory. The island, which has a population of 37,000, saw 65,000 South Korean visitors in 2007.

Another group of Japanese lawmakers, about 30 of whom attended Wednesday’s meeting, is scheduled to visit the island next week to get a firsthand view of the situation.

Some of the prominent names supporting the cause include Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, Upper House member Eriko Yamatani of the Liberal Democratic Party and Lower House member Jin Matsubara of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Nakagawa did not attend the meeting, but the other two did.

“There are countries that regulate purchase of its land by foreign capital in order to preserve cultural, political and environmental heritage,” Yamatani said, signaling the group may seek such a law depending on the findings of their inspection tour.

Tsushima Mayor Yasunari Takanabe told the meeting that good relations with South Korea benefit his city. But the growth in tourism and foreign investment “has caused friction for the people because of the cultural difference,” he said.

The central government clarified its position in a statement Tuesday, declaring that Tsushima is Japanese territory and that Seoul has never officially argued the island is part of South Korea. The purchase of land with South Korean capital is not a concern if it is done legally, the government said.

But the lawmakers fearing a takeover of Tsushima are alarmed by the aggressive purchases.

Hiranuma referred to the dispatch of British forces to the Falkland Islands by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, saying any sovereign state should act with similar poise to defend its territory.

The dispute over Tsushima’s sovereignty has been relatively small compared with the quarrel over Takeshima, known as Dokdo in Korean. Tokyo and Seoul have clashed over the South Korea-controlled islets, which Japan claims to have had sovereignty over since the mid-17th century.

Tokyo earlier this year planned to explicitly state in supplementary school materials that the islets are an “integral part of Japan.” Following a sharp reaction from Seoul, however, the government dropped the plan.

But the islet row remains heated on the local level, with Shimane Prefecture designating every Feb. 22 as “Takeshima Day” since 2005 to condemn the “illegal occupation of the islets by South Koreans.”