Just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged South Korea and Japan to cool tensions over a territorial island dispute, both countries geared up yesterday for a propaganda war over the issue.
Their respective foreign ministries both unveiled requests for hefty budget increases to support efforts to publicize their respective claims — at home and abroad — to islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.
“We’ve asked the National Assembly to approve 5 billion won (US$4.4 million) for projects aimed at strengthening our sovereignty over Dokdo,” a South Korean ministry spokesman said.
The increase would more than double the existing budget.
The spokesman refused to give a breakdown, but Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified ministry official as saying the money would primarily be used for a worldwide publicity drive.
The Japanese ministry said it was asking the central government to set aside ￥560 million (US$7 million) to promote its side of the argument over the islands, along with other territorial disputes.
The conservative Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun reported yesterday that the government would “place ads in 70 national and regional newspapers from September 11 for a week” to highlight its case for sovereignty over the Takeshima islets.
It marks the first time the government has used newspaper adverts to buttress its argument, the newspaper said.
Later yesterday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Seoul was prepared to buy its own ad space in Japanese newspapers.
“We will secure the budget to run ads saying ‘Dokdo is our territory’ in Japanese media,” Kim, on a visit to Oslo with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
The rocky outcroppings at the center of the dispute are located roughly halfway between the two countries in the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea). They are currently occupied by South Korea, but claimed by both countries.
The dispute flared with renewed passion after Lee provoked an angry reaction from Tokyo by paying a surprise visit to the islands last month. Tensions reached a point where Clinton felt compelled at the APEC summit on Sunday to ask both countries to “lower the temperature” and adopt a “calm and restrained approach.”