A group of South Korean lawmakers yesterday visited an isolated set of islands at the center of a territorial dispute with Japan — prompting an immediate protest from Tokyo.
Seventeen members of the parliamentary National Defense Committee flew to the Dokdo Islands (known as Takeshima in Japan) on military helicopters for a day-long visit, an aide to committee member Han Ki-ho said.
The trip — described as a government inspection — was aimed at checking security measures around the islands, which are guarded by South Korea’s coast guard, the aide said.
A picture released by the committee showed the lawmakers shouting slogans with a placard reading: “Dokdo is our land. We will defend it.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who on Monday had urged the lawmakers to cancel their trip, said it was “extremely regrettable” that his call had gone unheeded.
“We strongly protest it and we are urging South Korea to prevent future incidents,” Fujimura told a regular media briefing in Tokyo.
The islands, which lie between the two countries, are controlled by South Korea, but claimed by both nations.
The longstanding row over ownership boiled over in August when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the islets.
Tokyo said the trip, the first ever by a South Korean president, was deliberately provocative.
Lee said it was designed to press Japan to settle lingering colonial-era grievances, including the issue of Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II.
Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945.
In August last year, three conservative Japanese lawmakers tried to visit Ulleung island, the closest South Korean territory to the Dokdo chain, to voice their anger at Seoul’s “occupation” of the islets.
South Korean immigration officers refused to allow them into the country, citing security concerns.
Japan is also embroiled in a separate row with Taiwan and China over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼) in the East China Sea.