Japan to take islet row with S. Korea to ICJ

President Lee's visit to disputed islets the last straw for Tokyo in long-running squabble

Tokyo - Japan yesterday said it will take a long-running territorial row with South Korea to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after South Korean President Lee Myung Bak made a surprise visit to the disputed islets last Friday.

"We must consider measures to peacefully resolve the dispute based on international law, including filing a suit with the International Court of Justice," Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said yesterday.

"Until now, the Japanese government has considered what impact such action may have on Japan- South Korea ties," he added.

"But the President's visit to Takeshima made such considerations unnecessary. We must present Japan's position to the international community."

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had earlier said the trip was "extremely deplorable".

However, Japan may find it difficult to take the issue to the ICJ, which requires an agreement between the disputing parties to make its ruling binding.

South Korea rejected repeated proposals by Japan in the 1950s and 1960s to let the court rule on the issue.

The islets, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, lie equidistant from the two mainlands. A squadron of armed South Korean police officers has manned the islets since the 1950s. An elderly fishing couple also lives there with government support.

Hours after Mr Lee's visit, the glass front door at a South Korean consulate-general's office in Hiroshima was shattered by a brick. National broadcaster NHK said police suspect the incident was linked to Mr Lee's trip, the first by a South Korean president.

Seoul officials said the visit was meant to highlight the islets' importance as a natural reserve and was not aimed at stirring up trouble.

But the trip came after Japan angered South Koreans by reconfirming its territorial claim to the islets in its new defence White Paper published late last month.

Opposition politicians quickly accused Mr Lee of making the trip to tap South Koreans' deep-seated nationalistic sentiments against Japan for gains in domestic politics.

Although Mr Lee is banned by law from seeking re-election in the presidential vote scheduled for December, his governing party feared being labelled "pro-Japanese" so much that it forced his government in June to postpone the signing of an agreement to share classified military data with its rival.

Reuters, AFP, New York Times