Monday, March 28, 2005

Islands, history books, and the Korean Wave

Japan-South Korea ties on the rocks

by Kosuke Takahashi
March 28, 2005

TOKYO -- When are a few sea-swept, uninhabited rocky islets more than a bunch of rocks? When they involve lucrative fisheries and emotional issues that hark back to the days of the Japanese Empire.

The two tiny, rocky islets surrounded by 33 smaller rocks also represent sovereignty and national pride for both Japan and South Korea -- though Seoul controls them now and the lucrative fishing in the area. The disputes over the islands -- called Tokdo by Koreans and Takeshima by Japanese -- threaten the recent rapprochement between the two neighbors and represent a significant political and economic setback. The South Korean public is so incensed that hundreds have poured into the streets to protest and the united front against North Korea's nuclear ambitions is cracking.

The most recent dispute erupted on February 23 when the assembly in Shimane Prefecture, the Japanese territory closest to the island, submitted a bill to set up a symbolic prefectural ordinance establishing February 22 as Takeshima Day, named for the Japanese-claimed island -- and infuriating South Korea. A comment on February 23 by Takano Toshiyuki, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, saying the islands are part of Japanese territory exacerbated the situation.

This tinderbox was ignored for years, and it has now blown up, metaphorically and politically speaking, with powerful financial, trade and diplomatic repercussions for both nations -- and for Northeast Asia as a whole.

On March 22, Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka said Tokyo would find it difficult to resume stalled talks quickly on signing a free-trade agreement with South Korea this year because of the Takeshima/Tokdo territorial dispute, Kyodo News reported. Link to the rest of the article...

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