By Lee Tae-hoon
Starting next year, the government will construct a civilian port that also has the capacity to accommodate warships displacing 5,000 tons on Ulleung Island, the nearest Korean territory to Dokdo, Navy officials said Tuesday.
Dokdo is comprised of two rocky islets sitting midway between Korea and Japan, both of which claim sovereignty over them.
Korea is currently occupying the islets, which local historians say Japan illegally seized in 1905 as part of its move to install military facilities there during its colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
“The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs plans to complete the design of the new port and commence the construction next year with the aim of completing it by 2017,” a senior ministry official told The Korea Times, asking for anonymity.
He denied news reports that the Navy may use the port as a military base.
The official claimed that under the government plan, the Navy will be allowed to have access to the new port strictly under certain circumstances, such as bad weather during naval drills in the East Sea.
Nevertheless, some media outlets claim that Seoul is considering permanently dispatching some of the 20 frigates to be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries between 2012 and 2018 to counter any possible Japanese attempt to take Dokdo by force.
There have been growing calls to strengthen military capabilities near Dokdo, to which only a small number of police officers have been dispatched since the 1950s.
Earlier, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said it was worth studying the idea of deploying troops to Dokdo to respond to Japan's growing territorial claims over it.
"In reality, it's appropriate to station police, but we should consider the idea of deploying military troops there, depending on the situation," the prime minister said earlier this month.
President Lee Myung-bak has also pledged that Seoul will take measures to reinforce effective control of Dokdo to counter Japan's renewed claims to the islets, located 90 kilometers from Ulleung.
The dispute over Dokdo resurfaced when Japanese educational authorities on March 30 approved samples of middle school history and social science textbooks that described the islets as its territory. The books will be used in schools from April next year. The Japanese Cabinet then approved a "Diplomatic Blue Paper" report for 2011 which also laid claim to the islets.
독도수호 위해 군함 배치되나?
군 관계자들이 19일 내년부터 5000t급 함정이 정박 할 수 있는 부두를 울릉도에 건설 할 예정이라고 밝혔다.
한 해군 관계자는,“올해 2월부터 12월까지 설계를 마치고 내년부터 공사를 시작해 2017년까지 부두를 건설할 예정”이라고 말했다.
하지만 이 관계자는 이 부두에 내년부터 2018년까지 해군에 인도될 예정인 20여 척의 차기 호위함 (FFX. 2천 300 ~ 2천 500t급) 중 일부를 울릉도에 중·장기 적으로 배치하는 방안을 검토 중이라는 언론 보도에 대해서는 사실이 아니라고 부인했다.
그는 “건설이 완공되면 동해 해안에서 군사훈련이나 경비작전 중인 함정이 기상 악화 시 피항할 수 있도록 부두를 사용하는 방안을 검토하고 있으나,” FFX를 배치하는 방안은 검토된바 없다 고 말했다.
현대중공업에서 건조 중인 FFX는 2012년 1번함을 시작으로 2018년까지 20여 척이 해군에 인도돼 1ㆍ2ㆍ3함대에 배치될 예정이다.
김황식 국무총리는 지난 7일 국회에서 울릉도에 “강력한 군대가 주둔하는 방안도 검토할 가치가 있다고 생각한다"고 답변한 바 있다.