SEOUL – Seoul on Thursday formally rejected Tokyo’s proposal to refer their territorial dispute over a pair of South Korean-controlled islets to the International Court of Justice for a ruling on sovereignty.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry handed over a diplomatic document to that effect to a senior Japanese Embassy official at the ministry.
Yonhap News Agency quoted the document as saying that “no territorial disputes exist” regarding the rocky outcrops known to South Koreans as Dokdo and asserting that they are South Korean territory historically, geographically and under international laws.
The document was in reply to a diplomatic document Japan sent South Korea on Aug. 21 formally proposing the two sides jointly refer their territorial dispute over the islets, known to the Japanese as Takeshima, to the ICJ.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said he was “extremely disappointed.” He stated that the government intends to take “appropriate measures,” including unilaterally taking the case to the court at The Hague, “in order to resolve the dispute calmly and peacefully in accordance with law.”
Later in the day, Zenbei Mizoguchi, the governor of Shimane Prefecture, which claims jurisdiction over the islands, said he will strongly ask the central government to do exactly that.
Japan made the same proposal in 1954 and in 1962, with the same result. South Korea’s position is that no territorial dispute exists with Japan over the islets in question. And the ICJ can only take jurisdiction over a dispute if both parties agree to bring the case to the court.
Diplomatic ties between the two countries have deteriorated to their lowest level in years since South Korean President Lee Myung Bak made an unprecedented visit to the disputed islets on Aug. 10.
That prompted Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to send Lee a letter protesting the trip and call for taking the dispute to the ICJ.
South Korea refused to accept Noda’s letter.
On Aug. 24, Noda accused South Korea of “illegally” occupying the islands since the 1950s and urged that the issue be resolved on the principles of “law and justice” on the international stage.
The two volcanic islets and the numerous small reefs around them have a combined area of only 0.21 square km and sit in the Sea of Japan, which the Koreans call the East Sea, and are roughly equidistant from the Korean Peninsula and Honshu. They are 92 km southeast of South Korea’s Ulleungdo (U tsuryo Island) and 157 km northwest of Japan’s Oki Islands.
The two countries have been contesting ownership of the islets since the early 1950s, which culminated in South Korea deploying a battalion there in 1954.
Since then, South Korea has had a garrison there and built lodgings, a monitoring facility, a lighthouse and docking facilities.