Seoul hits senior official’s Takeshima Day presence

Kyodo

A senior government official Friday attended the annual ceremony commemorating the day Takeshima, now controlled by South Korea, was incorporated as Japanese territory, sparking a protest from Seoul.

The presence of Aiko Shimajiri, a parliamentary secretary with the Cabinet Office, at the Takeshima Day ceremony in Matsue marked the first time that anyone holding one of the top three posts in a government ministry has attended the event.

“It goes without saying that Takeshima is Japanese territory,” and the territorial dispute is a “very important issue involving sovereignty,” Shimajiri said during the ceremony.

The islet group, collectively known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, consists of two islets and numerous reefs. Japan claims it as part of Shimane Prefecture, while South Korea says it is part of North Gyeongsang Province. The islets lie almost halfway between the South and Honshu.

Shimane Gov. Zembee Mizoguchi voiced regret that Seoul is trying to make its control over the islets an “established fact.”

“It is natural to send the parliamentary secretary since (the islands) are our territory,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.

The administration’s decision to send a high-ranking official is expected to harm bilateral relations even as the new leaders of each country are trying to heal the long-festering rift.

Park Geun Hye will be inaugurated as South Korean president on Monday.

“It’s deeply regrettable that Japan has sent a government official to an unjust event and we strongly protest the move,” South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Friday.

In front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Friday, citizens’ organizations held rallies protesting the Shimane event.

The South Korean ministry had warned earlier it would take countermeasures if a senior Japanese official attended the event.

Several South Koreans also staged a protest near the venue of the ceremony in Matsue.

The event was attended by a record 20 Diet lawmakers, including Shimajiri, Hiroyuki Hosoda, executive deputy secretary general of the LDP, and Shinjiro Koizumi, director of the LDP’s Youth Division.

The ceremony, first held in 2006, marks the incorporation on Feb. 22, 1905, of the rocky islets as Japanese territory.

South Korea, which occupied the islands in 1952, has stationed border guards there since 1954.