Tokyo will go all out to persuade Seoul to take a sovereignty row to the International Court of Justice after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s unprecedented visit to disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, government sources said Friday.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba met with South Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak Soo in Tokyo the same day and strongly urged Seoul to join Tokyo in legally resolving the row over what are known in Japan as the Takeshima islets and in South Korea as Dokdo.
“I would like to strongly demand that the South Korean government agree to our proposal if it thinks its claims over Takeshima’s sovereignty can be justified,” Genba told reporters after the meeting. “It is important to resolve this issue on the world stage in a fair and peaceful manner.
“It has been 50 years since (Japan last tried to initiate legal proceedings) and South Korea has since joined the United Nations, which values the rule of law,” Genba said. “As an important U.N. member state, South Korea should accept Japan’s proposal if it is going to claim the islets.
“I told (Ambassador Shin) that South Korea should view its ties with Japan in a comprehensive manner and move to correct its recent statements and actions” in a considerate manner, Genba added.
But with Seoul certain to reject the proposal, Tokyo’s bid appears doomed, just as on previous occasions when it has tried to take the issue to the court. Without the consent of all parties involved in a territorial dispute, the court is unable to begin an investigation.
Genba said Japan would consider other means to protest Lee’s visit last week, although he refused to elaborate. Several indirect options to apply pressure on Seoul have been floated, including the possibility of scaling down a bilateral currency swap deal or rejecting South Korea’s bid for a nonpermanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.
“I would like to clarify that our protest over (Lee’s) visit to the Takeshima isles will not necessarily end with (a legal resolution). We will continue to consider other measures in response to South Korea’s actions,” Genba said.
Bilateral ties have traditionally been fractious, but relations have plunged following Lee’s sudden visit to Takeshima on Aug. 10. The president has since made a series of controversial remarks, including a demand that Emperor Akihito apologize to South Koreans over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.
With Lee’s support ratings tumbling, his moves are considered an attempt to increase his political leverage as much as possible before his term expires in February.
Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula has left a legacy of sensitive historical issues, including the sovereignty row over Takeshima, that has prevented the two countries from creating a future-oriented relationship.
Japan says the Takeshima islets were incorporated as part of Shimane Prefecture in 1905. The barren isles are located 157 km northwest of Oki Island.
But in 1952, then-South Korean President Syngman Rhee unilaterally took control of the islets by creating the so-called Syngman Rhee Line to protect the country’s marine resources.
In 1954, Seoul stationed coast guardsmen on one of the islets and has effectively controlled the territory ever since.
Japan tried to take the sovereignty dispute to the International Court of Justice in 1954 and again in 1962, but South Korea refused to participate both times. Tokyo has since avoided playing the legal card, fearing it would harm bilateral ties.
In the event that South Korea unexpectedly agrees to Japan’s request, Genba said it could take a little time to prepare all the necessary documents to take the case to the court, but the government would complete them “as soon as possible.”