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Lee Myung-bak's islet visit to impact Japan ties

Publication Date : 11-08-2012

 

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak visited the Takeshima islands in the Sea of Japan on Friday, the first visit by a South Korean president to the disputed islands, which will likely have a serious impact on relations with Japan, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry senior officials.

The Takeshima islands, also known as Dokdo in South Korea, are at the centre of a territorial dispute between the two countries. By visiting, Lee apparently wants to show the South Korean public a hard-line stance on the issue, ahead of Korea's anniversary of liberation from Japan's colonial rule on Wednesday.

In protest of the president's visit to the islands, the government has decided to temporarily recall its Ambassador to South Korea, Masatoshi Muto.

Before arriving on the islands, Lee reportedly visited the South Korean island Ulleungdo in the Sea of Japan.

According to Korean media, Lee was joined by Environment Minister Yoo Young Sook and Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Choe Kwang Shik, along with several South Korean journalists and photographers.

Lee reportedly left the islands the same day to return to Seoul.

While sovereignty over the islands has been disputed between Japan and South Korea for years, the islands have been effectively occupied by South Korea.

In July 2008, then South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung Soo visited the Takeshima islands, but there has not been a visit to the islands by a South Korean president.

The Takeshima islands are about 157 kilometres northwest of Okinoshima island, Shimane Prefecture, and consist mainly of two rock reefs. In 1905, the islands were placed under the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture, becoming an official territory of Japan.

However, in 1954, the administration of then South Korean President Syngman Rhee occupied the islands by deploying a garrison on the islands and constructing a lighthouse, essentially establishing control of the islands.

While the Lee administration has avoided provocative remarks over disputes between the countries, including the Takeshima issue, since it was formed in 2008, it has shifted to a tougher stance.

In the face of his deteriorating popularity, Lee apparently wanted to show he is aware of public sentiment calling for the South Korean government to take a tougher line against Japan.

 

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