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Seoul rebuffs Japanese PM's call for Lee Myung-bak's apology

Publication Date : 24-08-2012


Seoul yesterday rebuffed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s call for President Lee Myung-bak’s apology for his recent remarks that Emperor Akihito should apologise for Japan’s colonial atrocities.

Tokyo refused to accept the returned letter Noda sent to Lee last Friday to express his displeasure over Lee’s recent visit to the Dokdo islets and his call for the emperor’s apology.

Seoul, thus, sent it via registered mail. It has decided to return the letter as it contains content claiming the islets as Japan’s territory.

Further ratcheting up diplomatic tension, Noda said during a parliamentary session that Lee’s remarks “deviated much from common sense,” and that they should be retracted.

“For Japan, a maritime state, our territory and waters including faraway islets are of great importance. With a firm resolve, we will sternly respond to matters concerning our territory,” he said.

Noda went on to say that Tokyo will continue its territorial claim to Dokdo, which it calls Takeshima, through a variety of diplomatic opportunities, presaging a continuing spat over the islets, which have been in effective control of South Korea.

A senior Cheong Wa Dae official spurned the call for Lee’s apology, saying, “We don’t feel the need to respond to a nonsensical claim.”

On the same day Noda sent the contentious letter to Lee, Tokyo made a verbal proposal to Seoul to take the Dokdo case to the International Court of Justice. Seoul dismissed it as part of Japan’s strategy to make it an international dispute.

On Tuesday, Tokyo made a written proposal to have the case heard at the ICJ. Japan made the same proposal in 1954 and 1962, which were both rejected.

Seoul immediately spurned the proposal, reiterating that Dokdo is Korea’s territory legally, historically and geographically. Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said during a parliamentary session that it is “not worth even a passing thought.”

The two neighbours traded barbs, blaming each other for being diplomatically discourteous. They have long harbored historical animosity stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula.

A Seoul official raised the question of whether Tokyo is in a position even to mention diplomatic manners when it fails to appropriately recognise its past atrocities and territorial sovereignty.

Seoul is also displeased that Tokyo disclosed to the media the content of the diplomatic letter before Lee read it - an apparently inappropriate move in light of diplomatic customs.

To Seoul’s decision to return Noda’s letter, Japanese unleashed an angry response, saying that it is “inconceivable under diplomatic customs”.

"As it is the letter through which the prime minister conveys his thoughts, we hope that the Korean government clearly receives it,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu told reporters.

The spat over Dokdo continued to escalate amid a series of provocative remarks from Japanese officials.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said during a parliamentary session on Wednesday that Korea’s effective control of Dokdo is illegal.

“(Japan) currently cannot exercise its jurisdictional right. We can say from this situation that (Korea’s occupation of the islets) is illegal,” he was quoted as saying by the news outlet.

Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young called on Gemba to reverse his remarks and prevent a recurrence.

“We, once again, strongly urge Tokyo to stop the wrongful claim to Dokdo,” he said during a regular press briefing.

Anti-Japanese sentiment was further fanned here with some Japanese conservatives furtively attaching a stick that reads Dokdo is Japan’s territory to the building of an activist that supports Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

Also embroiled in territorial disputes with China and Russia, Japan is expected to put up a strong front in order not to seem soft, particularly at a time when a parliamentary election is expected later this year.

On top of it, the spat over Dokdo comes as Japan is struggling to shore up its national pride sapped by its prolonged economic slump and the rise of neighbouring states, namely China, analysts said.


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