Japan yesterday postponed an ocean survey of islands controlled by South Korea and diplomats of the neighboring countries tried to defuse the emotionally charged row.
Tokyo may dispatch a Foreign Ministry official to Seoul to resolve a standoff over disputed islets, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested yesterday.
News reports had earlier said Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Shotaro Yachi may travel to Seoul as early as today to hold talks over the plan to survey resource-rich waters near the islets, which Japan also claims.
When asked about the reports, Koizumi said Japan would do its utmost to reach an amicable solution. But both sides refused to back down.
"We want to avoid any unexpected event so we are holding talks at the level of vice ministers and ambassadors," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said earlier yesterday.
South Korea maintained its show of force, dispatching a surveillance plane to the disputed area, putting its coast guard on full alert and summoning the Japanese ambassador for a 40-minute dressing down.
Hundreds of riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Seoul as a group of about 20 protesters burned Japanese flags and portraits of Koizumi, one day after an activist attempted ritual suicide.
The Japanese coast guard said it had delayed the departure of the two ships to the islands -- called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan -- citing strong winds.
The ships have been docked since Wednesday just off the port of Sakaiminato in the southeast.
"We have not decided whether to start the survey," coast guard spokesman Naoki Mori said. "We've been consulting with the central government."
But Japan this week announced it would take measurements for a map of features on the seabed of the disputed islands. Tokyo said it needed the survey to submit a counterproposal to South Korea at a June meeting of the International Hydrographic Organization. At the conference, the group will consider using Korean names for the underwater features of the islands.