Japan’s defense chief takes flak for suggesting Lee’s trip to disputed islets is South Korean ‘internal affair’

Kyodo

Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto came under fire from the opposition camp Friday for apparently undermining Japan’s claims to the disputed islets of Takeshima by suggesting a visit by South Korea’s president was influenced by “internal affairs” in Seoul.

“Just like everyone else, I personally have the impression that (President Lee Myung Bak’s trip) was prompted by domestic factors in South Korea,” Morimoto told reporters Friday when asked about the visit’s timing. “I think South Korea decided (to proceed with the trip) based on domestic affairs.

“At any rate, we should refrain from commenting on other countries’ internal affairs,” he added.

Japan maintains the South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan — called Dokdo by Seoul — are an inherent part of its territory, both on historical grounds and in accordance with international law.

Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki voiced disbelief over Morimoto’s remarks, telling reporters, “if it is true that he said that, he deserves a censure motion.”

The LDP also demanded that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan convene Budget Committee sessions in both the Lower and Upper houses and will consider submitting a censure motion against the defense minister, who was only appointed in June, if it is dissatisfied with his explanation, some of the party’s lawmakers said.

Morimoto told reporters later Friday that he does “not recall saying that the Takeshima Islands’ sovereignty is an internal affairs issue,” and that he merely remarked that there was “speculation” Lee’s trip was prompted by domestic matters in South Korea.

Morimoto’s remarks have been pounced on by the main opposition force in a bid to further weaken Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration and push him to dissolve the Lower house and call a snap election in the final weeks of the Diet session, which runs through Sept. 8.

The LDP earlier in the week threatened similar motions unless Noda stipulated when the Lower House would be dissolved for an election, only to be satisfied by his vague assurance that this would happen sometime “soon.”