South Korean leader visits contested islands
South Korea's president made a controversial visit to disputed Sea of Japan islands in a trip that would increase tensions with Japan.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visiting the remote islands Photo: Reuters
2:05PM BST 10 Aug 2012
Lee Myung-bak was making the first-ever visit by a South Korean president to the rocky volcanic outcrops in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), roughly midway between South Korea and its former colonial ruler Japan. Disregarding Tokyo's warnings that the visit would strain already prickly relations, Lee toured the main island and shook hands with coastguards as a South Korean flag fluttered in the breeze.
"Dokdo is indeed our territory and a place worth staking our lives to defend. Let's make sure to safeguard it with pride," pool reports quoted him as saying.
TV footage showed him posing for a photo in front of a rock painted with the slogan "ROK (South Korean) territory".
The South has stationed a small coastguard detachment since 1954 on the islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Japan reacted angrily, recalling its envoy indefinitely and calling in Seoul's ambassador to Tokyo to receive a strong protest.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the trip was "extremely deplorable".
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba upbraided his South Korean counterpart by phone and said the visit "would have a major negative impact on our people's sentiment".
"Our side has no choice but to take proper measures in response," he said.
The trip was made just before the men's bronze medal Olympic soccer match between Japan and South Korea, and days before the August 15 anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, which ended its 35-year rule over Korea.
Lee's conservative party faces a presidential election in December, although he himself is constitutionally barred from a second term.
Many older Koreans have bitter memories of Japan's brutal rule. Historical disputes such as Dokdo still mar their relationship, despite close economic ties and a shared concern at North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.
South Korea last week summoned a senior Japanese diplomat to protest his country's renewed claim to the islands in its latest defence white paper.
Earlier in July it was Tokyo's turn to protest when a South Korean rammed his truck into the main gate of Japan's embassy in Seoul.
Among other issues, Seoul is irked at Tokyo's refusal to compensate elderly Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops in World War II.
In June the South shelved the signing of a military information-sharing agreement with Japan following Korean protests.
One analyst said Lee's trip was an over-reaction to diplomatic strains and should have been considered more thoroughly.
Strategically, the visit to Dokdo would be one of the strongest actions the president could take, said Jin Chang-Soo of South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank.
"In the long term, considering there will be many problems (between the two countries), I doubt whether this is the right time to play this card," he told AFP.
Jin said Japan was currently unstable, engaged in territorial disputes with other countries, "and we've just added fuel to the fire. What good can it do?"
With just over six months till his term ends, Lee's popularity has slumped amid corruption scandals allegedly involving his brother and close aides.
Another analyst said the president's decision to visit Dokdo was right but it came too late in his term. "This needs to be more than a mere effort to influence opinion polls," said Lee Junhan, a professor at Incheon University.
Dokdo covers a total land area of 18.7 hectares (46.3 acres). Apart from the coastguards there are two civilian residents, an elderly man and his wife.
It is sited amid rich fishing grounds and Seoul officials say the seabed contains reserves of gas hydrates, although the amount is still unclear.
The South's military increased air and sea patrols around Dokdo before Lee's visit, according to a military official quoted by Yonhap news agency.
Korean President: “The Emperor Should Kneel Before Us”
von MYRIX veröffentlicht am 15. AUGUST 2012
South Korea’s president has caused a scandal by demanding “the Japanese king” grovel before the Korean people in apology should he wish to set foot on that peninsula’s sacred soil.
South Korean president Lee Myung-bak made a public address at a university at which he told an audience of student teachers “Japan’s king” should “kneel” (i.e. kowtow or dogeza, the most grovelling form of apology possible in East Asia) before the Korean people in apology for daring to maintain its claim over Takeshima, should he wish to pay a state visit to Korea.
He further compounded the insult by referring to Japan’s emperor as “the Japanese king” instead of “emperor” as is customary, with both comments being unprecedentedly undiplomatic as such things go.
The Japanese government has avoided any official diplomatic response by suggesting his remarks were “surely only his personal opinions?” – although what exactly the difference is when a president makes such comments to a public audience in an official address is not clear.
Japan’s government and royal family have made numerous apologies for Japan’s earlier imperialist ventures, but China and Korea have tended to ignore them and instead press for apologies of ever greater humility and acknowledgements of crimes of ever inflating magnitude.
Opportunistically fostering internal public hatred of Japan and maintaining Japan’s economic “aid” are often cited as factors involved in otherwise bizarre efforts to maintain Japan as the region’s foremost aggressor nation.
The South Korean president had only just finished making the first presidential visit to the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan, which the Japanese government urged him not to do and then called “regrettable.”
This followed on from a South Korean footballer being thrown out of the Olympics in disgrace for waving a placard proclaiming Korean sovereignty over the territory at a match, although the Korean response appears to have been a series of further accusations and demands levelled at Japan rather than any gesture of contrition.
Whether or not it has any official consequences, the president’s antics have outraged a significant number of Japanese, with an insult directed against Japan’s imperial household beyond the pale for many:
“This is tantamount to a declaration of war!”
“I can’t believe he was so rude as to call him ‘king’!”
“He should never have gone near this.”
“This sort of thing used to cause wars…”
“They can get away with saying what they like about Takeshima, but insulting the emperor will not be forgiven.”
“I don’t think much of our imperial system but even so this is way out of line.”
“Was there an election coming up?”
“His approval is at like 20% so he is just desperately trying to grub up votes by stirring up hatred against Japan.”
“The South Korean presidency has a 5-year 1 term limit, so what is puzzling is that he has no need to fight to be re-elected… why is he so desperate?”
“His family and those around him are being investigated for corruption, and his older brother was arrested for bribery. He’s just earning brownie points for anti-Japanese activity so they don’t nail him too hard when his time is up.”
“He was really anti-Japanese even before, and was always being provocative like this. His government and the Japanese media just made sure to play it down.”
“He’s at the end of his term with no chance of re-election, so he can say anything.”
“He should be begging for his life.”
“Can we please stop our economic aid to them?”
“At least stop that huge currency swap we are doing for them.”
“This is an insult against the Japanese spirit!”
“The Japanese and Korean governments are actually cooperating – this time the Japanese government needed an external scandal to distract everyone from its huge tax increases.”
“He pretty much killed relations with Japan with that remark.”
“Sad to think someone like this is the South’s president – I guess it shows what kind of people they are.”
President Lee says visit to Dokdo was long in the works
Posted on : Aug.14,2012 10:55 KSTModified on : Aug.14,2012 11:12 KST
President Lee Myung-bak shakes hands with a coast guard policeman on Dokdo
In August 13 comments, Lee describes feeling inclined to make forceful gesture to Japan
By Ahn Chang-hyun, Blue House correspondent
President Lee Myung-bak said he decided to visit Dokdo on August 10 because he “felt the need to show Japan with action.” His comments read as a public statement that he intended the visit to be a form of punishment.
Blue House spokesman Park Jung-ha quoted Lee as making the remarks during an August 13 luncheon with National Assembly speaker Kang Chang-hee at the Blue House.
Lee also reportedly said Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda asked him during their December summit meeting in Kyoto to have a statue symbolizing comfort women taken down. The statue, which shows a young girl, was put up in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
“I spent over an hour talking him out of it,” Park reported Lee as saying.
Lee also said, “A powerful country like Japan could resolve [the comfort woman] issue if it made up its mind to do so, and I felt the need to show them with action because they’re been so reluctant due to domestic political concerns,” Park reported.
During the Kyoto meeting, Lee pushed strongly for Noda to address the comfort woman issue. At the time of his Dokdo visit Friday, he gave the official reason as having to do with the islets’ “environmentally friendly preservation,” and made no direct reference to Japan there, saying only “Dokdo is our land.”
Lee went on to say he had been preparing the visit for three years, adding that he had planned to go in 2011 with a handwritten message about the islets but was prevented from doing so by the weather.
“I wanted to stay overnight there last weekend, but I decided to come back the same day because of the weather,” he said.
His account suggests that the visit was long in the works, and that he made up his mind to carry it out after Noda’s remarks about the statue in December.
During his Dokdo visit, Lee reportedly said, “Japan needs to apologize sincerely for starting a bad war, and the resentment isn’t going away because it won’t do that.”
MB says Dokdo trip was necessary
Relations with Japan on ice as Lee prepares for Liberation Day speech
"주말 독도서 자려고…" MB 발언에 '깜짝'Aug 14,2012
President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday he took the action to make an unprecedented presidential trip to Dokdo last week to confront Japan’s reluctance to redress the long-standing grievances over its wartime crimes against Korea.
“Some said Dokdo is undeniably Korean territory and it was unnecessary for me to actually go there,” Lee was quoted as saying by his spokesman, Park Jeong-ha.
“Japan is a big country and it can make up its mind and resolve [pending historical] issues. But it was reluctant to do so because of its domestic political situation, and I felt the need to take action.”
Lee also said Japan’s influence in the international community has dwindled from what it used to be in the past, according to Park.
Lee made the remarks during his luncheon with the new leadership of the National Assembly. Speaker Kang Chang-hee and deputy speakers as well as senior presidential aides joined the meeting.
According to Park, Lee told the leaders of the legislature that he had initially prepared for the trip to Dokdo three years ago.
“And I also planned to visit the islets with a plaque bearing the name of Dokdo engraved on it last year, but the trip didn’t take place due to the weather conditions,” Lee said.
In a symbolic trip no other president has made, Lee visited Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets, on Friday.
Although the Blue House said it was a part of Lee’s environmental preservation campaign, the unprecedented presidential trip to the islets, located 87.4 kilometers (54 miles) southeast of Ulleung Island, is considered an effort to send a message to reaffirm Korea’s sovereignty over its easternmost territory, over which Japan has frequently claimed control.
Lee said yesterday he originally planned a weekend trip to spend a night on Dokdo, but the weather only allowed him to stay there for a few hours on Friday.
“And Japan’s response is not different from expected,” Lee said.
Japan lodged a series of angry complaints over Lee’s trip, and the diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo quickly became strained.
Lee’s latest remarks are expected to further freeze the relationship, which was already icy due to issues related to Japan’s wartime crimes such as sex slavery of Korean women.
Lee yesterday talked about the “comfort women” issue again.
“In December last year in Kyoto, I spent more than one hour trying to persuade [Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda] who demanded the statue of a teenage girl be removed,” Lee said, expressing his frustration toward Japan’s attitude.
The statue, called the Peace Monument, was erected last year in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and Tokyo has demanded it be removed.
Yonhap News Agency also reported earlier yesterday that Lee had strongly criticized Japan’s insincere attitude in addressing the two countries’ colonial past.
In a dinner meeting on Friday after his visit to Dokdo, Lee contrasted Japan’s attitude with that of Germany, a senior Blue House official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.
“I have no intention to provoke Japan or create a standoff,” Lee was quoted as saying, “but Japan has been too insincere about the issues.”
While some showed concerns about the diplomatic fallout with Japan over Lee’s Dokdo visit, the Korean public largely supported it, a survey conducted by the government showed.
The office of Lee’s senior secretary for political affairs conducted a poll on Saturday, and 84.7 percent gave positive responses to the visit.
Although the diplomatic row between the two countries worsened at a sensitive time ahead of next week’s celebration of Korea’s emancipation from Japan’s colonial rule, President Lee’s Liberation Day address will unlikely include another harsh message toward Tokyo, a senior presidential aide said.
“The Liberation Day address has not been finalized,” he said. “But it won’t likely include another strong message about Dokdo.”
The source, however, said the president will still talk about the historical issues between Korea and Japan.
In March, Lee implored Japan to redress its wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, warning that time is running out for Tokyo.
By Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]
"주말 독도서 자려고…" MB 발언에 '깜짝'
“일본이 과거사에 대해 소극적이라 행동 보여줄 필요 느껴 독도 방문”
이 대통령, 국회 의장단과 상견례
이명박 대통령은 10일 독도행에 대해 “과거사에 대한 일본의 소극적 태도 때문”이라고 설명했다. 이 대통령은 13일 청와대 상춘재에서 강창희 국회의장, 이병석·박병석 국회부의장과 상견례를 하면서 이병석 부의장이 “독도 방문은 참 잘한 일”이라고 하자 다음과 같이 말했다고 박정하 청와대 대변인이 전했다. “굳이 갈 필요가 있느냐는 의견도 있었지만 지난해 12월 교토에서 (한·일 정상회담 때 노다 요시히코 일본 총리가) 오히려 ‘소녀상을 철거하라’고 얘기해 한 시간 동안 설득한 적이 있다. 일본과 같은 대국이 마음만 먹으면 풀 수 있는데 일본 내 정치문제로 인해 소극적인 태도를 보여 행동으로 보여줄 필요를 느꼈다.”
이 대통령은 10일 독도에 함께 간 동행자들에게 “일본이 나쁜 전쟁을 일으키고 진심으로 사과해야 하는데 그러지 않으니 응어리가 안 풀리는 것이다. 독일은 제2차 세계대전 후 진심으로 사과하니까 그런 문제가 없다”고 말했다고 한다. 독도행을 영토 문제뿐 아니라 과거사 문제로도 연결시킨 셈이다.
8·15 광복절 경축사에서도 독도를 직접 거론하진 않지만 과거사에 대해선 분명한 목소리를 낼 것으로 보인다. 특히 그간 8·15 경축사에서 직접 언급하지 않았던 일본군 위안부 문제를 적시한다고 한다. 이 대통령은 지난 3·1절 기념사에서도 “군대 위안부 문제만큼은 여러 현안 중 조속히 마무리해야 할 인도적 문제”라고 했다.
이 대통령은 이날 “3년 전부터 (독도행을) 준비했다. 지난해에도 독도 휘호를 갖고 가려고 했는데 날씨 때문에 가지 못했다. 이번에 주말인 토·일요일에 가서 자고 오려고 했는데 날씨로 인해 당일 갔다 왔다”고 말했다. 일본의 격앙된 반응에 대해선 “예상했던 것”이라며 “국제사회에서 일본의 ‘영향력’이 예전 같지 않다”는 말도 했다.
한편 이 대통령의 독도 방문 이후 민주통합당은 여러 차례 대변인 논평을 내고 “우리나라 영토를 방문했다는 점에서 원론적으론 문제가 없으나 깜짝 이벤트 성격이 강하고 전략적인 문제도 있다”고 지적했다. 다만 이해찬 대표와 박지원 원내대표는 공식적인 반응을 일절 내놓지 않고 있다.
민주당의 한 당직자는 “사안의 중요성을 봤을 때 대표와 원내대표가 이 문제를 언급하는 게 맞지만 광복절을 앞둔 시점에 독도 방문 자체를 비난하는 것이 자칫 역풍을 불러일으킬 수 있어 조심스럽게 대응하고 있는 것으로 풀이된다”고 말했다. 반면 우상호 최고위원은 13일 라디오 방송에서 “일본의 독도 분쟁지역화 의도에 말려들 수 있다는 점에서 대통령의 직접 방문은 현명하지 못했다”고 비난했다.