Japan escalated its verbal attacks on Seoul over the Takeshima territorial row Friday, with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda calling South Korea’s control of the islets “illegal” and the Lower House adopting a resolution denouncing its president, Lee Myung Bak, the first such Diet action over the islets in almost 60 years.

Noda made the comments in the Diet, then later held a news conference to explain Japan’s diplomatic stance on two of its territorial issues, in an apparent bid to avoid alienating voters.

He vowed to handle the disputes “in a level-headed manner” and “with firm, unwavering determination” to defend Japan’s remote islands, including Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Senkakus, controlled by Japan, are claimed by China and Taiwan.

“It is my understanding that (Takeshima) is being illegally occupied by South Korea,” Noda told the Upper House Budget Committee earlier in the day.

He added that he will continue using that phrase to urge South Korea to agree to jointly take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration had intentionally not used that phrase to avoid an all-out diplomatic row.

In 2006, the government, then led by the Liberal Democratic Party, called the occupation “illegal” in a government document, drawing harsh protests from South Korea, which calls the islets Dokdo.

The current administration has toughened its stance, with Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba using the word “illegal” Wednesday.

“I will continue using the expression ‘illegal occupation’ with the ICJ and the like, and make efforts for a peaceful resolution under the rule of law,” Noda told the Diet.

Earlier in the day, the Lower House passed a resolution expressing strong displeasure over Lee’s Aug. 10 trip to Takeshima as well as his demand that Emperor Akihito apologize for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The chamber also adopted a resolution criticizing the recent landing by Chinese activists on the Senkakus, known as Diaoyu in Chinese.

The Upper House may adopt similar resolutions next week.

Friday’s resolution against South Korea states that Seoul is illegally occupying Takeshima and urged the Noda administration to take effective measures to resolve the issue.

“There is no doubt that Shimane Prefecture’s Takeshima is our territory historically and in light of international law,” the resolution says. “South Korea cannot legally justify any of the measures that it has taken by illegally occupying Takeshima, and we will not tolerate it.”

The last time the Diet adopted a resolution regarding Takeshima was in 1953. South Korean President Syngman Rhee had unilaterally drawn a line in the Sea of Japan that Japanese commercial fishing boats were not allowed to cross, with the disputed islets on the South Korean side.

During a Lower House plenary session Friday, Noda condemned Lee’s visit.

“President Lee’s recent landing on Takeshima is extremely regrettable and we will take resolute measures against it,” Noda said. “I also demand an apology and a retraction . . . of the statement the president made regarding the Emperor, which was beyond my comprehension and extremely deplorable.”

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