By Na Jeong-ju
The government will renovate a shelter for fishermen on Dokdo and develop infrastructure on the nearby island of Ulleng-do as part of a long-term strategy to strengthen the country's sovereignty over its easternmost islets, the Office of the Prime Minister said Thursday.
Government agencies will also begin joint projects to protect the environment surrounding the rocky islets and promote international awareness of Japan's repeated claims over the islets.
The decision was made at a policy coordination meeting of ministers chaired by Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.
Some observers cautioned the decision may hurt Korea's relations with Japan, but officials said the measures were necessary to effectively counter Tokyo's arguments.
On Wednesday, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported Japan was working to hold a summit with South Korea and China next month in Kobe, but the presidential office said it has no plan for that.
``Han and other participants agreed to launch various new projects to protect Korea's territorial rights over Dokdo,'' according to the prime minister's office. ``Roads, breakwaters and a museum dedicated to Ahn Yong-bok, who defended Korea's ownership of the islets in the 18th century, will be constructed on Ulleng-do, while a shelter for fishermen on Dokdo will be refurbished.''
The government will implement the projects in close cooperation with the international community. It will also strengthening education and promotional activities about Dokdo, and enact environmental protection and the development of Ulleng-do.
Cho Won-dong, an official of the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, said the government will put the suggestions into action on a step by step basis.
``The construction should not damage the natural environment of Dokdo. All ministers should keep in mind the fact that Dokdo is Korea's natural heritage,'' Han said during the meeting.
A government task force on Japan's territorial claims, which was set up last month under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will closely cooperate with private institutes and government agencies to implement the projects.
South Korea plans to beef up the security of Dokdo by expanding annual military drills and deploying more patrol ships near the islets.
It has already launched the state-funded Dokdo Research Institute that will take charge of research and studies on the islets.