Japan yesterday dispatched a senior envoy to South Korea to avoid a flare-up over disputed islands, with Seoul warning it is ready to use force to stop a planned ocean survey by Japanese ships.
Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi said he would try to peacefully resolve the latest friction between the wealthy neighbors caused by colonial history.
"I want to have cool-headed and sincere discussions. I am not sure how things will turn out, but I will do my best," he told reporters at Tokyo's Haneda airport.
In Seoul, Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, who will meet with Yachi, vowed to prevent the Japanese survey at all costs.
"Even if we may have to go to the end, even if the Republic of Korea [South Korea] is broken apart, we have to stop it," he was quoted as telling journalists by Yonhap news agency. "We will stop it, even by mobilizing physical force."
South Korea's coast guard has been on full alert since Wednesday around the islands that are claimed by Tokyo but controlled by Seoul, which remains bitter over Japan's 1910-1945 imperial rule.
Japan is planning a survey of the ocean bed around the set of uninhabited islands, called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Japan wants to carry out the study to submit a counter-proposal to an international oceanographic meeting in June, which is to consider Seoul's proposal to use Korean names for features on the seabed.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso renewed Tokyo's call on South Korea to drop its proposal in return for Japan calling off the survey.
"We think [the survey] will not have to take place at this time if South Korea forgoes its proposal to the June meeting in Germany," Aso told reporters.
News reports said Seoul was ready to strike a diplomatic deal on the condition that Tokyo first calls off its survey.
Aso was skeptical, saying: "We will not call it off before we see the results of the diplomatic talks."
The Japanese survey ships were docked just off the western Japan port of Sakaiminato as diplomatic efforts continued.
"I think we will not move while diplomatic negotiations are going on," said national land and transport minister Kazuo Kitagawa, whose ministry is directly responsible for the survey.