Claims on islets to be taught in Korean schools

SEOUL - South Korean schoolchildren will receive mandatory classes explaining the South's ownership of a set of islands also claimed by Japan, the education ministry said yesterday.

Beginning this year, all schools will be required to provide a minimum of 10 hours of classes annually on "the importance of Dokdo", a ministry spokesman said.

The South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan or East Sea are known as Takeshima in Japan and are the subject of a bitter decades-old territorial dispute.

Japan held an annual rally last Friday to promote its claim to the island chain. Hundreds of people attended the event. It was also the first time the central government had sent a representative since the event was first staged in 2006.

Seoul, which had urged Tokyo to cancel the rally, reacted angrily and hundreds of activists staged a protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

An association of South Korean small shop owners has urged millions of its members to boycott Japanese goods, including cigarettes and beer.

South Korea's education ministry said these new classes were aimed at countering what it sees as a growing disinformation campaign by Tokyo.

"Some schools have already offered such Dokdo-related classes, but we viewed it necessary to set specific hours," the spokesman said.

Tomorrow, a state-funded education centre known as the Dokdo School will be officially dedicated in the mid-western city of Cheonan, providing families and schoolchildren with historical background on the islets.

Relations between South Korea and Japan have regularly been strained by the territorial dispute and other contentious issues arising from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

The territorial row deepened last year following a surprise visit by then South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to the island chain.