Japan may suspend its reciprocal exchange summits with Seoul after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak traveled last week to islets it controls but that Japan claims, an official source said.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plan to visit South Korea later this year is likely to be called off, the source said.
The suspension would be a demonstration of Tokyo’s resolute opposition to Lee’s trip to the islets, which lie roughly midway between the two countries.
Japan calls the islets Takeshima and considers them part of Shimane Prefecture. Seoul, which has a small garrison on the essentially two large outcroppings, calls them Dokdo.
In July 2004, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the late South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun agreed to launch “shuttle diplomacy,” in which the two leaders take turns visiting each other’s countries every other year to promote dialogue.
After the visits were briefly suspended chiefly by South Korean protests over Koizumi’s visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine, Lee visited Japan in April 2008 to resume the program.
Following Lee’s visit for a summit last December, Noda was to return the favor this year.
“We are not in a mood right now to go ahead with the shuttle diplomacy. We will respond firmly (now that) South Korea has crossed the line,” the source said.
Still, some argue that Japan should work to prevent relations with South Korea from souring further, in view of the need to work closely with it in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile threats.
Therefore the government will make a decision on the visit after gauging the South’s attitudes, including Lee’s speech Wednesday on the 67th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
Construction plans idled
South Korea will not to go ahead with construction plans on islets at the center of a territorial dispute with Japan as long as Tokyo takes no more provocative steps to reassert its claim over the South Korean-held islets, a Seoul daily reported Monday.
“Building a seawall or a research base on Dokdo will cause environmental damage, so the Cultural Heritage Administration will not approve them,” a high-ranking official from the South Korean presidential office told the Chosun Ilbo on Sunday.
The government is also giving up on bolstering defenses on the islets, the report said.
“Japan is an important ally, and Dokdo and South Korea-Japan cooperation are separate issues,” the high official said.