South Korea demands closure of new museum in Tokyo

"We hope this will be a key facility that deepens understanding on the Takeshima and Senkaku islands," said Mr Tetsuma Esaki, minister in charge of territorial issues.
"We hope this will be a key facility that deepens understanding on the Takeshima and Senkaku islands," said Mr Tetsuma Esaki, minister in charge of territorial issues. PHOTO: REUTERS

Govt-run museum about disputed islands opened just hours before Seoul's protest

TOKYO • South Korea has demanded the "immediate closure" of a new Tokyo museum devoted to two sets of disputed islands - just hours after it opened.

The museum, run by the Japanese government, displays documents and photographs defending Japan's claims over the islands, Agence France-Presse reported.

Japan has a longstanding dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. They are administered by Japan, where they are known as Senkaku, but also claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.

Tokyo also claims islands in the Sea of Japan, also known as East Sea, that are controlled by South Korea. They are known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

"We hope this will be a key facility that deepens understanding on the Takeshima and Senkaku islands," said Mr Tetsuma Esaki, minister in charge of territorial issues, as he opened the museum yesterday, according to local media.

But Seoul reacted promptly, with the Foreign Ministry lodging an immediate protest over what it described as Japan's "unjustifiable claims" to its "inherent territory".

"We demand its immediate closure," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The Japanese government should stop immediately its hopeless attempt to claim Dokdo, which is historically, geographically and under international laws a part of our territory," the ministry added.

Earlier this week, the hawkish Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told Parliament that the islets are part of Japan and that he will make persistent efforts to strengthen the case for Japanese ownership, Yonhap news agency reported.

The museum's opening is also likely to anger China and comes after Japan recently spotted a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine prowling in waters surrounding the Tokyo-administered isles.

The Japanese government has long complained about China's routine dispatch of coast guard ships to Japan's territorial waters surrounding the islands.

Relations between Japan and China deteriorated in 2012, when Tokyo "nationalised" some of the islets. Since then, the two top Asian economies have taken gradual steps to mend fences although relations remain tense.

But surveys conducted last year by Japan's Cabinet Office showed that Japanese citizens have grown less interested in the Senkaku and Takeshima, according to the Jiji Press.

"It's a big problem if people become used to Chinese intrusions because they occur too frequently," a Japanese official for coordination on territory and sovereignty was quoted as saying by Jiji Press.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korea demands closure of new museum in Tokyo'. Print Edition | Subscribe