Seoul to keep Dokdo out of court

Seoul has rejected Tokyo’s move to take the issue of Dokdo to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) following President Lee Myung-bak’s surprise visit to the islets.

“Our government’s basic stance is that we will not accept the call, as Dokdo is undeniably our territory,” said a foreign ministry official. “We see no reason to take the issue to the international court as we effectively control the area.”

Seoul must consent to sending the issue to the court alongside Tokyo.

The ministry’s response came after Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters “Tokyo is reviewing measures for peaceful resolution of the conflict including bringing the case before the ICJ.”

It is the first time in 47 years for Japan to make such a move since the two nations resumed diplomatic relations in 1965.

Japanese media outlets reported Sunday that Tokyo is mulling suspending “shuttle diplomacy” between the leaders and senior officials of the two neighboring countries in protest of President Lee’s visit to Dokdo.

They also claimed that the Japanese government is planning to launch a new organization that will exclusively handle territorial disputes over Dokdo, the Kuril Islands and Senkaku Islands.

Meanwhile, the South Korean consulate office in Hiroshima was hit by a brick a day after Lee’s visit to Dokdo.

Last Friday, Lee became the first South Korean president ever to visit the islets lying between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. He underscored the nation’s territorial control over Dokdo that has long been a thorn in relations between the two nations.

According to the foreign ministry, rallies held by Japanese rightist groups protesting the visit took place in eight different cities in Japan including the capital city of Tokyo.

In the wake of the incident, the foreign ministry asked Japan to step up security at Korean diplomatic missions in Japan.

Lee’s sudden visit to the islets has obtained wide support from the Korean people.

The ruling Saenuri Party criticized Japan for attempting to bring the issue to the international court, calling for the country’s repentance upon its past misdeeds.

“Japan has angered the (Korean) people by claiming its rights to our territory, distorting history textbooks and the facts on sex slavery during the occupation without any sincere apology for its atrocious colonial rule over the nation,” Saenuri spokesman Rep. Hong Il-pyo said.

He called on the government to take all possible measures to persuade the international community to recognize Dokdo as Korean sovereign territory.

Some experts, in the meantime, said South Korea should be prepared for an ICJ review over Dokdo.

“Now that the South Korean President has officially paid visit to Dokdo, future presidents of South Korea will have to make the same move during their terms,” said a foreign relations expert on condition of anonymity. “Coupled with the increasing number of politically-motivated Korean and Japanese politicians who lay strong claims to the islets, the issue of Dokdo has entered into a new stage. South Korea should be prepared for an ICJ resolution.”

The expert explained, as tension between Seoul and Tokyo escalates surrounding the islets, armed clashes are also likely. So to avoid the armed conflict, South Korea will eventually have to accept Japan’s offer to take the case before the international court.

Critics also believe Lee’s unprecedented visit to the islets, which brought a strong protest from Japan, gave the impression to the outside world that the islets are actually a disputed territory between the two nations making it easier for Japan to push for an ICJ trial.

“It became hard to maintain the status quo following Lee’s visit,” the expert said. “The problem however is that South Korea is not prepared for a legal fight with Japan as the discussion of Dokdo here is largely linked with nationalistic voices and studies on historical background. Unlike Japan, it is hard to make a legal approach to the Dokdo issue here.” <The Korea Times/Chung Min-uck>

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