MATSUE, SHIMANE PREF. – Japan on Friday stepped up its claim to a pair of South Korea-controlled islets, amid escalating tensions with its neighbor resulting from disputes over wartime issues.
“It is clear that Takeshima, which has been illegally occupied by South Korea, is our country’s inherent territory in light of historical facts and international law,” Hiroshi Ando, a parliamentary vice minister in the Cabinet Office, said of the islands in the Sea of Japan at an annual ceremony hosted by the Shimane Prefectural Government.
“We will take a firm attitude to convey our country’s position to the South Korean side and continue to deal with the matter in a persistent and calm manner,” Ando said.
As part of efforts to demonstrate its position on the islets, called Dokdo in South Korea, the central government has sent a representative of Ando’s rank to the ceremony each year since 2013.
In a speech, Shimane Gov. Zembee Mizoguchi criticized South Korea, saying Seoul “attempts to make the occupation of Takeshima an established fact through landings by government and parliamentary officials, among other means.”
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a news conference, “Territory and sovereignty are the foundation of a nation. We will continue to relay information at home and abroad so that our country’s position will be accurately understood.”
The annual ceremony has been held on Feb. 22 since 2006 after the Shimane Prefectural Government designated the day as “Takeshima Day” the previous year, a century after the prefecture declared it had assimilated the islets following Cabinet approval.
The two uninhabited islets, covering a total land area of 0.2 square kilometers, consist of volcanic rock with little vegetation or drinking water, but are located in rich fishing grounds.
South Korea has stationed security personnel on the disputed islets, roughly 200 km from either country, since 1954, and effectively controls them.
The territorial row drew fresh attention after it was recently reported in Japan that South Korean researchers conducted a state-funded survey in waters around the islets and took sediment samples from the sea floor in 2012.
Bilateral ties have already chilled in the wake of rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court in October and November ordering Japanese companies to compensate for what the court recognizes as wartime forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and an incident in which a South Korean navy vessel allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December.
In a move that further worsened diplomatic ties, South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang recently called for an apology from Emperor Akihito to resolve a separate historical dispute over the “comfort women,” a euphemism for women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
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