South Korean military drills around disputed island draw Japanese protest

South Korean patrol guards offer a salute to a passenger ship, which failed to land due to high waves on the easternmost islets of Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japan, on Aug 18, 2019. Seoul and Tokyo have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty o
South Korean patrol guards offer a salute to a passenger ship, which failed to land due to high waves on the easternmost islets of Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japan, on Aug 18, 2019. Seoul and Tokyo have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the islets.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (REUTERS, XINHUA) - South Korea’s military on Sunday (Aug 25) began two days of drills around a tiny island also claimed by Japan, prompting a protest from Tokyo just days after Seoul decided to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with its neighbour amid worsening relations.

Japan’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that South Korean navy drills around Takeshima island, which is called Dokdo in Korean, were unacceptable and issued a protest demanding an end to the activities.

The island is “obviously an inherent part of the territory of Japan”, Mr Kenji Kanasugi, the director-general at the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo in a statement.

South Korea’s military on Sunday launched a two-day maritime defence drill in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, just days after Seoul decided to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo amid worsening relations.

The South Korean navy said in a statement that it would stage the “territory defence exercises” from Sunday to Monday.

Participating in the maritime drills would be battleships from the navy and the coast guard, warplanes from the navy and the air force, and service members from the army and the marine corps.

The South Korean maritime forces had conducted the defence drills on and around the country’s easternmost islets of Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japan, twice a year, mostly in June and December.

This year’s drills were delayed amid the rising trade spat between South Korea and Japan and the controversy over historical issues.

Tokyo and Seoul have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the group of islets called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, which lie about halfway between the East Asian neighbours in the Sea of Japan, which Seoul refers to as the East Sea.

South Korea last Thursday had announced the scrapping of the intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, drawing a swift protest from Tokyo and deepening a decades-old dispute over history that has hit trade and undercut security cooperation over North Korea.

 
 
 

Relations between South Korea and Japan began to deteriorate late last year following a diplomatic row over compensation for wartime forced labourers during Japan's occupation of Korea.

They soured further when Japan tightened its curbs on exports of high-tech materials needed by South Korea's chip industry, and again this month when Tokyo said it would remove South Korea's fast-track export status.

The disputed islands have long been one of the most sensitive areas of contention for South Korea and Japan.

Recently, South Korea and Japan traded words over the way the islands were described on a website for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The islands were at the centre of a more serious clash in July, when both South Korea and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by a Russian military plane.