SEOUL – Drawing protest from Tokyo, the governor of a South Korean province visited a pair of disputed islets claimed by Japan on Wednesday, according to his Facebook page.
Kim Kwan-yong is the governor of North Gyeongsang province, which has jurisdiction over the South Korea-administered islets known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan. He arrived by helicopter and sang the national anthem in front of the South Korean flag in the presence of security personnel, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday said the visit is “totally unacceptable” given Japan’s territorial claim on the islets off Shimane Prefecture.
“The visit was forcibly carried out despite our country’s protest in advance,” Suga told a regular news briefing. “It’s extremely regrettable.”
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul also lodged a protest.
“To protect Dokdo is to protect our self-esteem,” Kim was quoted as telling the security guards. “There should not be (a difference) in ideology, generation and class in protecting sovereignty and the nation,” he said.
Kim’s visit is likely to be interpreted as showing resolve to protect the islets at a time when Japan has reasserted its territorial claim.
“All workers of the North Gyeongsang province office are filled with a sense of mission to keep a watch during the night as a security guard for Dokdo,” Kim was quoted as saying.
A row broke out over the islets last week, when Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday it is “unacceptable” that the official website for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics uses the “Dokdo” name.
“It goes against the Olympic Charter, which calls for mutual understanding and opposes the political use of sports,” Kishida told reporters.
The Japan Olympic Committee has also asked the International Olympic Committee and the Korean Olympic Committee to change the name, a source close to the matter said Friday.
In 2012, South Korea’s then-President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to the islets raised diplomatic tensions.
The islets are also claimed by North Korea as part of its blanket claim to the entire Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, a group of South Korean local assembly members on Monday said they had stopped raising funds to place a “comfort women” statue on the disputed islands.
The group in Gyeonggi province said their activity, which had triggered Japanese government protests, will be continued by private groups, according to Yonhap.
The statue and others like it represents women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
The assembly members announced their plans earlier this month amid heightened tensions following the setup of a similar statue in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan. Japan recalled its ambassador in response.
Even South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has opposed a statue on the islets, saying it would be “undesirable.”
The South Korean government notified the assembly members on Jan. 18 that their move might breach a law banning public agencies from seeking donations, Yonhap said.