SEOUL - South Korea turned away three Japanese opposition lawmakers Monday who were planning to visit a South Korean island near a pair of disputed islets claimed by Japan.
The three conservative politicians were stopped upon arrival at Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport and compelled to return to Japan later in the day.
Yoshitaka Shindo, Tomomi Inada and Masahisa Sato of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party departed from Tokyo’s Haneda airport in the morning but finally gave up on entering South Korea in the evening after the Japanese government asked South Korea in vain to reconsider the rejection, Shindo told Japanese reporters accompanying them.
South Korean officials told the three that their visit could “trigger actions that would threaten public safety” and sought their swift return to Japan.
The lawmakers remained unconvinced and called on the officials to provide detailed explanations for denying their entry.
The trio were planning to inspect Ulleungdo, the administrative and military base for the South Korean-controlled islets called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The lawmakers said they do not intend to renew Japan’s territorial claims to the disputed islets, but the South Korean government said the refusal was based on the immigration control law.
“Takeshima is Japanese territory,” Shindo told South Korean media at the airport. “Our positions are different and we need to talk to each other on the issue.” He also warned that Seoul’s decision to deny them entry would evolve into a “big diplomatic problem.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano had expressed Japan’s “deep regret” over the unusual step taken by South Korea and said Tokyo was making a last-ditch effort to urge Seoul to let the lawmakers in.
“The lawmakers intended to inspect the island legally and in light of our friendly relations, we very much regret that South Korea took such a measure,” Edano said at a press conference.
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul had asked the South Korean government to let the three enter the country.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Kak Soo prior to the three lawmakers’ decision to return home and conveyed his regret over the move and urged Seoul to reconsider it.
Matsumoto also expressed regret over a visit Monday to the contested islets by South Korean Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae Oh and called for the cancellation of a planned South Korean parliamentry committee meeting on the islets on Aug. 12.
The LDP members traveled to Seoul despite South Korea’s decision last Friday to slap an entry ban on them on the grounds their safety could not be guaranteed and their visit would negatively affect bilateral relations.
Their plan to visit Ulleungdo has ignited a storm of protests in South Korea.