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Seoul fires diplomatic broadside over Tokyo islets claim

Updated: 2012-08-01 07:40
By Zhou Wa ( China Daily)

The Republic of Korea on Tuesday protested Japan's renewed territorial claim over disputed islets in Tokyo's latest defense white paper, and experts said historical issues will pose a major challenge for Tokyo-Seoul ties.

The ROK summoned Kurai Takashi, Japan's deputy chief of mission in Seoul, to protest Japan's claim to the disputed islands lying nearly equidistant between the two countries, the ROK Foreign Ministry told Yonhap news.

Japan's Cabinet issued its latest annual defense white paper on Tuesday, again claiming that the islets, known as Dokdo in the ROK and Takeshima in Japan, are an integral part of Japanese territory.

"The Korean government strongly protests Japan's re-inclusion of territorial claims to Dokdo, which is clearly indigenous territory of Korea in terms of history, geography and international law, in the Defense of Japan 2012, Tokyo's annual defense white paper, issued on Tuesday," the ministry's spokesman Cho Tae-young was quoted by Yonhap as saying.

The ROK "urges the Japanese government to take immediate corrective measures", Cho said, reiterating that Seoul will not tolerate any unjust claim by Japan to the territory. "We urge the Japanese government to come to the realization that Japan cannot expect improvement in defense relations with the ROK unless it gives up on its territorial ambition," the ministry said.

Seoul's broadside on Tuesday underscores the difficult challenges the two nations continue to face over long-standing historical issues, even as their economic and cultural ties grow closer every year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One example of the lingering tensions between Tokyo and Seoul was the late-minute cancellation of a bilateral military information agreement - a pact officials from the two nations had worked on for two years and planned to sign in late June, according to the WSJ.

If Japan and the ROK want to improve relations, they must resolve historical issues, which are extremely complicated, said Huang Youfu, an expert on Korean studies at the Minzu University of China.

ROK citizens are very sensitive to the disputed islands issue and the "comfort women" - Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. Japan's claims in the white paper will hurt the feelings of the ROK people and lead to more criticism of Japan, he said. Huang added that these two issues prompted Seoul to call off the signing of the military agreement.

Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said it's unlikely that relations between the two governments will improve if Japan continues to upset the ROK in disputes over historical issues. The disputes also weaken the alliance of the United States, Japan and ROK in the region, he added.

Xinhua contributed to this story.