SEOUL – The South Korean navy held a rare live-fire drill near the disputed Takeshima islets Friday, brushing off angry protests Japan, which called the exercise “deplorable.”
The South Korean Defense Ministry said the drill was part of the military’s “regular” national defense training. The islets are controlled by South Korea, which calls them Dokdo.
South Korea’s navy and coast guard have staged joint exercises near the outcroppings many times, but a live-fire drill is rare and it prompted an angry response from Japan.
“Japan can never accept the drill given its position on Takeshima, and so we strongly demanded that the South Korean government stop its plans,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said the decision to push ahead with the exercises was “extremely deplorable.”
Seoul dismissed the protest out of hand.
“This is a military drill to bolster the defense of the Republic of Korea, so any outside demand or interference is not a subject for consideration,” ministry spokesman Wi Yong-Seop said. “The drill is now being carried out as scheduled.”
The rocky islets have been the subject of a bitter and decades-old territorial dispute. The row escalated in 2012 following a surprise visit by then President Lee Myung-bak.
Relations between the South and Japan are at their lowest ebb in years, mired in emotional disputes linked to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule, including the islet dispute.
Many South Koreans believe Japan has failed to properly atone for abuses carried out during the Japanese occupation.
The live-fire drill came as Japan began a controversial review of its landmark 1993 apology over the use of South Korean and Chinese women as wartime sex slaves for its troops.