QUARREL BETWEEN JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA MAY DESTABILIZE REGION

The Washington Times on October 2, 2012, reported that the Obama administration’s strategic pivot toward Asia could be adversely affected by a territorial quarrel between two key U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, over a rocky outcrop of islands. Excerpts below:

At the heart of the issue are two main islets and three-dozen smaller rocks in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. Both sides cite long-standing historical ties to the rocky outcrops, which are controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan.

“If we have some cracks in the bilateral relationship between Japan and Korea, then it will affect the whole security situation in Asia,” Hong Sungmog, an ambassador in South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Washington Times.

“If the feelings of the [Korean] people get higher and higher, then the government may not be able to contain the emotion of the people.”

Meanwhile, another territorial disagreement, between Japan and China, has embroiled the region. Beijing and Tokyo claim sovereignty over a group of five East China Sea islands, known as Diaoyu in China and as Senkaku in Japan.

The islands have been a point of friction between Japan and South Korea since the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula in 1945.

South Korea calls the islands Dokdo, or solitary islands. Japan calls them Takeshima, or bamboo islands. They are located in rich fishing waters, and it is believed that natural gas reserves may also be located in the area.

The Obama administration, which has declined to mediate in the matter, says the Asian nations must resolve the issue between themselves.

South Korea denies there is any territorial dispute over the islands.

“We Koreans think that it is unfair that this should be an issue at all,” Mr. Hong said.

South Korea says on a government website dedicated to the issue that the Dokdo islands are an “integral part of Korean territory historically, geographically and under international law,”

Neither South Korea nor Japan say there is any strategic interest in their wish to control the islets.

Tensions between South Korea and Japan escalated Aug. 10 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented trip to the islands in the first visit by a South Korean leader.

Japan slammed that visit as illegal and claimed South Korea had “marred our mutual ties.”

Later in August, South Korea rejected a Japanese proposal to take the quarrel before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

South Korean officials say there is nothing to discuss.

“We don’t accept that this is a legal dispute,” Mr. Hong said.

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