SEOUL – Then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak decided to visit a pair of South Korean-controlled islets in 2012 that lie at the center of a dispute with Japan — the first ever by a South Korean head of state — before he took office, according to his memoir, which hit shelves on Monday.
Lee, who served as president for five years until 2013, said in the memoir, titled “President’s Time,” that he felt a presidential visit was needed to impress upon the international community that the islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan, belong to South Korea.
He wrote that he originally planned to fly there in August 2011, but his trip was called off due to bad weather, and it eventually took place Aug. 10, 2012.
His visit prompted Japan to recall its ambassador from Seoul and send a letter of protest from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Lee, which Seoul rejected and sent back to Tokyo.
Four days after the visit, Lee irked Japan further by suggesting that Emperor Akihito should apologize for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula if he is to visit South Korea.
Later the same month, Seoul rejected Tokyo’s proposal to settle the territorial row at the International Court of Justice.
The disputed territory, which consists of two small islets and reefs with a total area of roughly 0.20 sq. km, is located in waters known for abundant fishing, roughly 90 km southeast of South Korea’s Ulleungdo Island and 157 km northwest of Japan’s Oki Islands.
Touching on the issue of former “comfort women” forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese military, Lee wrote in his memoirs that he and Noda were close to reaching an agreement ahead of a summit in November 2012 in Phnom Penh.
But two days before the summit was set to be held, the Lower House was dissolved. In the election the following month, Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan lost to the Liberal Democratic Party.
South Korea has repeatedly demanded that Japan settle the comfort women issue in a way that is acceptable to the surviving victims, namely through a formal apology and compensation.
Japan has maintained that all compensation issues with South Korea were settled under a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.
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