SEOUL — South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon demanded Wednesday that Japan immediately scrap a planned maritime survey near a group of disputed isles in the Sea of Japan and settle the issue diplomatically before there’s a high-seas showdown.
Two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships await dispatch from Sakaiminato port to an
area near disputed islets lying midway between Japan and South Korea.
South Korea’s coast guard said it has deployed more than 18 ships, including patrol vessels, near the isles to block the Japanese ships from entering South Korea’s EEZ.
Song Min Soon, Roh’s chief security adviser, said South Korea is preparing for a possible confrontation if Japan pushes ahead with its plan to survey the contested area.
“A government vessel maintains its status as a government vessel when it maintains its dignity as one and pays due respect to its host countries, and if it crosses that line, a confrontation is unavoidable,” Song was quoted as telling reporters by Yonhap.
The National Assembly also passed a resolution Wednesday, urging the government to take strong countermeasures that would prevent Japan from conducting the survey within South Korea’s EEZ, which overlaps with the EEZ declared by Japan.
The resolution, unanimously passed by 241 lawmakers in attendance at the plenary session, demanded the Japanese government immediately stop the survey plan.
Japan had planned to launch the survey as early as Thursday, but it is now expected to delay it to around late April in response to the South Korean protest.
The two Japanese vessels that departed Tokyo entered Sakaiminato port in Tottori Prefecture on Wednesday morning and left shortly before 3:30 p.m. It was not immediately known where the ships were bound.
The Japanese government said the survey is intended to investigate the sea floor topography ahead of an international conference on appellation of the sea floor in June.
The survey comes in response to South Korea’s move to propose naming the sea floor of the area in question during the conference.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a news conference Wednesday, “There is no problem in terms of international law to conduct a scientific maritime survey within our country’s exclusive economic zone.”
Abe repeatedly called for a “level-headed” response by both sides in accordance with international law, but also said Tokyo intends to proceed.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said the United States has not taken a position on either side’s claim in the territorial dispute.
“Our hope is that the two countries will resolve the issue amicably,” said an embassy official who asked not to be identified.
Dokdo consists of two small islets with a total area of 0.23 sq. km. South Korea’s coast guard has stationed personnel on the larger islet since 1954.
Bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul have deteriorated since the Shimane Prefectural Assembly approved an ordinance last March designating Feb. 22 “Takeshima Day” to press Japan’s claims to the islets and the rich fishing grounds around them.