Thursday, March 17, 2005

Islands Come Between South Korea and Japan: Ordinance Intensifies Diplomatic Dispute

By Anthony Faiola, Washington Post Foreign Service, March 17, 2005; Page A19

SEOUL, March 16 -- South Korean officials denounced an ordinance passed Wednesday by a Japanese local council that reinforces Japan's claim to a disputed island chain between the two countries. The new law, and South Korea's reaction, escalated a quarrel that analysts say could damage their diplomatic ties.

The bill was approved by Japan's Shimane prefecture assembly as hundreds of nationalists sporting paramilitary gear urged the council on. The measure established an annual Takeshima Day, which highlights Japan's claim to the uninhabited volcanic outcroppings. The islands are known as Takeshima in Japanese and as Dokdo in Korean. Debate on the measure has sparked more than a week of violent anti-Japanese protests in South Korea, which lodged an official complaint with Japan over the law. Lee Kyu Hyung, a spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Ministry, called the law an "impure intention to impair our sovereignty" and vowed that Japan would be held "fully responsible for any incident that may occur" as a result of its passage.

Last week, South Korea canceled a visit to Tokyo by Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon after Japanese officials said the issue was a local matter in which the national government could not interfere. On Wednesday, Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, called for calm. "Both sides need to deal with this in a levelheaded manner with the basic tone of friendship between Japan and South Korea, not swayed too much by the recent emotional conflict," he said in Tokyo. South Korea announced a series of "counter-measures" aimed at Japan, including allowing citizens to make regular visits to the islands, something largely forbidden in the past. A Seoul city assemblyman visiting the Shimane prefecture assembly hall Wednesday was seized by Japanese police after he appeared to make preparations to cut his finger with a knife in order to write a statement in blood.--------------

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