Lawmaker defends attempt to observe disputed Takeshima isles

by Natsuko Fukue and Masami Ito

Staff Writers

Three Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who were denied entry by South Korea when they tried to visit an island near disputed territory in the Sea of Japan remain undeterred, although their actions ratcheted up diplomatic tension with Seoul.

Team leader Yoshitaka Shindo said the visit to Ulleungdo, the administrative and military base overseeing the disputed rocky islets known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, was made in peace, and that he hopes friendly relations between the two countries will be maintained.

“Our purpose wasn’t to make a fuss,” claimed Shindo, who flew back to Haneda airport with LDP colleagues Tomomi Inada and Masahisa Sato, on Monday evening after spending about nine hours at Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport. “We didn’t go there to claim our territorial rights.”

The trio planned to spend Tuesday and Wednesday on the island. The denial of entry into South Korea “was regrettable and disappointing,” he said.

Shindo claimed the lawmakers intended only to get South Korea’s perspective on the disputed islets and observe what kind of research was being carried out there. “The problem of the Takeshima issue is that there’s no opportunity (for the two countries) to discuss and understand differences of claims from each side.”

South Korea decided last Friday to refuse entry to the three lawmakers on the grounds their safety could not be guaranteed and bilateral relations would be negatively affected, but the trio were undeterred.

South Korean officials reportedly told them their visit could “trigger actions that would threaten public safety” and sent them back to Japan.

“I don’t understand why such a measure had to be taken,” Shindo said.

The rocky, almost uninhabited, islets have long been a source of discord between Tokyo and Seoul. Japan claims the two islets and numerous reefs are part of Shimane Prefecture, while South Korea says they were returned after the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula ended in 1945.

The feud came to a head in March when the education ministry approved textbooks describing Takeshima as Japanese territory, prompting Seoul to announce plans to build an ocean research base near there.

In May, South Korean opposition lawmakers, with permission from Moscow, visited Kunashiri Island, part of a disputed island chain occupied by Russia but claimed by Japan.

Then, in June, Korean Air flew a Dokdo flyby — prompting the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo to order its officials to boycott the airline.

Despite the tension, Shindo says he plans to attempt to visit Ulleungdo again. “Now I know (South Korea) won’t welcome me by traveling like this time, so I hope Japan and South Korea hold a convention or symposium on the Takeshima issue there so that I can go.”

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano criticized the South Korean government’s action, adding that Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto lodged a complaint with South Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak Soo.

“It is extremely regrettable and we have used our official diplomatic channel to request that” the South Korean government take action based on a comprehensive view, Edano said Tuesday morning. “We would especially like to ask the South Korean government to react calmly in light of the importance of Japan-South Korea relations.”

Edano stressed that Japan would remain firm on the issue.

“We will react calmly from a comprehensive viewpoint but we will maintain a resolute attitude against individual cases,” he said.

Shindo was first elected as a Lower House lawmaker at the age of 38 in 1996. He is a grandson of Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, commander during the battle of Iwo Jima, who was portrayed in Clint Eastwood’s film “Letters from Iwo Jima.”