SEOUL/TOKYO – South Korea has conducted maritime research and collected samples near disputed islands, triggering a protest from Japan on Tuesday after it was brought to Tokyo’s attention — a development that could further deteriorate relations between the two countries.
A paper has shown that South Korean researchers in 2012 conducted a state-funded survey in waters around the pair of islands controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo, and took sediment samples from sea floor. The Japanese government alleged the activity violated the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“If (South Korea) conducted any scientific research in Japan’s territorial waters or exclusive economic zone without our prior consent, it’s unacceptable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We’ve already lodged a strong protest.”
Seoul has been conducting seabed and other surveys in search of natural resources around the islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Most recently, Suga said, a South Korean research vessel entered Japanese territorial waters near the islets last Friday, as well as between Sunday afternoon and Monday.
The research paper was published in the March 2018 edition of a journal issued by a U.S.-based body on limnology and oceanography. Its authors include researchers at Seoul National University and an institute under the South Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The researchers surveyed the circulation of nitrogen on the sea floor and used mud samplers in multiple locations in the waters around the islets, according to the paper.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the islands belong to South Korea historically, geographically and in terms of international law, brushing aside Tokyo’s claim.
The development comes at a time of strained diplomatic relations between the countries due to wartime issues related to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, as well as a December incident in which a South Korean destroyer allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ aircraft in the Sea of Japan.
On Friday, an annual ceremony aimed at highlighting Japan’s claim of sovereignty over Takeshima will be held in Shimane Prefecture.
The region lays claim to the islets and has held the annual Feb. 22 ceremony since 2006, as it incorporated the islands on that day in 1905 following approval by the Japanese government.
The central government will send Hiroshi Ando, a Cabinet Office parliamentary vice minister, to the annual Takeshima Day ceremony in the prefectural capital Matsue.