South Korea yesterday banned the entry of three Japanese lawmakers in a fresh diplomatic row over islands claimed by both countries, officials said.
Immigration officials stopped the three members of Japan’s conservative opposition Liberal Democratic Party when they arrived at Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
The trio will be deported later, he said.
“They are being held at the airport before being shipped back to Tokyo,” a justice ministry spokesman said separately, without giving details.
The group had planned to visit Ulleung Island, the closest South Korean territory to the Seoul-controlled, uninhabited Dokdo Islands in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), which are known in Japan as Takeshima.
A fourth lawmaker who had intended to join them canceled his trip, citing a “busy political schedule.” However, Yoshitaka Shindo and two other members of parliament went ahead with the plan.
Hundreds of activists staged a protest at the Seoul airport, waving banners asserting South Korea’s ownership of the islands and burning photos of the Japanese lawmakers.
Shindo, the grandson of a general in the imperial Japanese army, has said in a video message on his Web site that “South Korea has illegally and militarily occupied part of what is undoubtedly our territory.”
“We don’t intend to fight there. We want to express our feeling of anger to the South Korean people,” he said.
The two other lawmakers are Tomomi Inada, a former lawyer who denies the 1937 Nanjing massacre by Japanese troops in China, and Masahisa Sato, a former member of the military who headed a Japanese reconstruction mission to Iraq in 2004.
Speaking to reporters at the airport, Shindo reiterated his country’s claim that Dokdo belongs to Japan.
“However, we must discuss this issue as there is a difference in opinion between Japan and South Korea,” Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.
“If our entry is denied, we will visit once again,” he added, saying that the entry ban might evolve into a diplomatic row between the nations.
The latest row began when flag carrier Korean Air mounted a test flight of its new A380 aircraft over Dokdo in June. Tokyo in response ordered public servants not to use Korean Air for a month.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last week ordered officials to advise Tokyo that Seoul “cannot guarantee the lawmakers’ safety” and to urge them to cancel the visit.