Japan’s historical dispute with South Korea over the Dokdo islets (known as Takeshima to the Japanese) has been reignited, with both sides launching salvos against each others’ territorial claims.
The recent war of words over Dokdo started last month when the Japanese government decided to implement a one-month boycott of its diplomats using Korea’s national air carrier, Korean Air, after the airline routed a test flight over the disputed islets. Seoul condemned the action and demanded that Japan reverse the ban.
This latest spat was further inflamed in the past week as a result of a planned visit to the small islets by four members of the Japanese Diet. Seoul responded by quickly condemning the proposed stopover as a provocation, and warned that the Korean government couldn’t guarantee the safety of the lawmakers if they insisted on following through with the visit.
The chairman of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy and research council, Shigeru Ishiba, reacted angrily to this veiled threat by claiming that South Korea was being ‘intolerant’ and noted that ‘Japanese citizens can visit anywhere in South Korea just as South Korean people are free to come to Japan.’
LDP officials claim the trip is meant to explore options at resolving the issue rather than inflaming the current situation. The Japanese government has refrained from commenting specifically on the trip, but has shown no inclination that it’s willing to get involved.
A strange corollary to this story is North Korea’s public show of support for Seoul’s position. Pyongyang’s state news agency released a statement claiming that ‘all Koreans, with a united force, should squash the (Japanese) attempt to steal Dokdo.’ While it isn’t surprising that the North condemned Japan – which it often has done in the past – it’s interesting to see the display of unity with Seoul on the issue.
Unfortunately, political posturing over this dispute isn’t uncommon. Both sides have routinely used the issue to stir up nationalist sentiment for domestic political gain. However, this comes at an inopportune time for Japan, which is involved in seemingly intractable territorial disputes with its three most important neighbours (China, Russia and Korea). Tokyo and Moscow were only recently engaged in a frosty exchange over the disputed Kuril Islands.
All sides involved in these thorny disputes would do better to avoid the grandstanding.