Kanehara Nobukatsu, minister for general affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, keeps his eyes closed in an elevator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Friday. He was called in as the ministry protested Japan’s claims over Dokdo in its foreign policy white paper.
/ Korea Times photo by Rhyu Hyo-jin
By Kang Hyun-kyung
The diplomatic row between South Korea and its neighbor deepened Friday as Japan confirmed a foreign policy blue book reiterating a territorial claim over the Dokdo islets.
Japan approved the publication amid strains in Seoul-Tokyo ties after the latter approved 18 middle school textbook samples that described the islets as its territory.
In protest, the Northeast Asian Bureau chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) called in the Japanese minister for general affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The foreign policy guidelines, obtained by MOFAT, read that despite a territorial dispute over Dokdo between South Korea and Japan, there has been no change in Tokyo’s position that the islets are part its territory.
Japan will continue to make consistent diplomatic efforts to resolve this peacefully, it said.
Since the publication of the first edition in 1957, Japan has updated the publication every year. Its territorial claim over the islets first came in the 1963 edition.
From then, Japan’s description of the islands as part of its territory came on and off.
Since 2008 Japan’s Dokdo claim has come every year.
MOFAT officials have taken Japan’s consistent claim over the islands even after the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took office in 2009 very seriously.
The DPJ, which has sought a pro-Asia policy, tried to keep diplomatic thorns, such as history and textbook issues, under control in an effort to get bilateral ties with Seoul on the right track.
And there are several signs that Seoul-Tokyo ties were improving under the DPJ government.
These include Japan’s announcement to return cultural assets that were seized during its colonial rule of South Korea to Seoul.
Because of the positive signal in bilateral relations, some analysts here defended the DPJ when Japan released the 18 textbook samples that intensified the territorial claim over Dokdo.
The guideline materials for teachers were confirmed in 2008 before the DPJ took power, they said. Publishers are required to follow the guidelines when updating their textbooks.
Therefore, the analysts said, the DPJ leaders’ hands are tied when it comes to the new social science textbooks.
Their interpretation came to lose influence after the DPJ government approved the new foreign policy publication. It is clear that the DPJ is no different from its predecessor when it comes to territorial claims.
As Japan’s campaign for Dokdo as its territory has intensified Seoul has taken necessary steps to “proclaim” that the islets are part of South Korea.
Seoul is renovating a heliport in Dokdo and construction will be completed in May. It also plans to intensify public awareness of the islets and support academic activities to do research on the islets.
Meanwhile, Kwon Chul-hyun, South Korean ambassador to Japan, paid a protest visit to Foreign Minister of Japan Takeaki Matsumoto Friday.
Kwon was quoted as urging the Japanese government to reverse the course of action.
In response, Matsumoto responded that South Korea’s establishment of facilities on Dokdo played a role in worsening bilateral relations.
Kwon tried to set a meeting with Japan’s top diplomat earlier, but Matsumoto did not respond to his call.
After the Friday meeting, the South Korean envoy told reporters that Seoul should come up with actions, not words, regarding Dokdo.
Foreign policy experts here say the territorial dispute between the two sides is expected to continue as Japan will release a defense posture book, in July at the earliest.
Sources say the forthcoming publication will likely have similar content about the islands.
독도영유권 반복한 일 외교청서로 한일관계 급랭
일본 외교청서에 독도영유권을 다시 명기하면서 교과서 문제로 갈등조짐을 보이던 한일관계가 급속도로 냉각되고 있다.
일본은 역사적으로 국제법적으로 독도가 일본 영토라는 입장에 변화가 없다는 취지의 입장을 외교청서에 확정한 것으로 알려졌다.
2009년 일본에 민주당 정권이 들어서면서 한일관계가 호전될 것이라는 낙관적인 전망이 있었다. 몇일전 중등 교과서 문제가 불거졌을 때에도 일각에서는 민주당 정권이 들어서기 전에 확정된 지침에 의거해서 교과서 개정작업이 이루어진 것이라는 점을 들어 독도문제에 대한 일본의 의도에 대해 과잉해석을 자제하려는 움직임도 있었다.
그러나 금요일 일본정부가 독도영유권을 명기한 외교청서를 확정했다는 사실이 알려지면서 민주당 정권하에서도 영토문제에 대한 일본의 입장에는 변화가 없다는 것이 분명해진 셈이다.