Visiting our territory
Lee’s trip asserts Seoul’s sovereignty over Dokdo
President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to Dokdo Friday in an unprecedented trip aimed at unmistakably asserting Seoul’s sovereignty over the easternmost islets.
Lee’s landmark visit is a natural course of action by our President and holds great significance in that it amounts to declaring to the world that Dokdo is Korea’s. The visit is also tantamount to ensuring that no other county in the world can raise objections to our territorial sovereignty at a time when Korea is occupying the rocky islets effectively.
True, different opinions can be expressed on the timing of the trip and its possible implications in domestic politics, but we see Lee’s visit as a belated but rightful action that comes in response to Japan’s repeated provocations concerning Dokdo, which is recognized as part of our territory historically and by international law.
Lee’s journey, which comes only five days before the nation celebrates its liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule means that Seoul won’t be trapped by its ``quiet diplomacy’’ any longer with respect to Dokdo.
As far as bilateral conflict on Dokdo is concerned, Japan gets what it deserves. Tokyo has long laid claim to Dokdo, which it calls Takeshima, in its school textbooks and government reports despite strong protests from Seoul. Last week, Japan renewed these claims in its annual defense ``White Paper,’’ irking many Koreans.
We see the territorial claims, together with Tokyo’s refusal to compensate elderly women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II, as an indication that Japan has not fully repented of its imperialist past.
Lee’s trip is certain to strain relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Given their strong inter-dependency in business, the neighboring countries could go through a low period for a long time. The trip could also negatively affect their efforts to sign a military information sharing pact and negotiations to work out a free trade agreement between two of Asia’s largest economies.
Some analysts here raise fears that the President’s sudden trip may serve as a catalyst for Dokdo to become a territorial dispute issue, which could serve the interests of Japan. But it doesn’t make sense that we have to tolerate Japan’s diplomatic impoliteness and reckless remarks due to this unfounded concern.
Rather, Tokyo should know Seoul’s prudence; President Lee had the environment and culture ministers accompany him to Dokdo, rather than the foreign and defense ministers, to minimize the anticipated diplomatic conflict between the two countries.
Opposition parties were cool about Lee’s visit to Dokdo, dismissing it as a ``political show’’ intended to placate public opinion that turned sour in the wake of wrongdoings implicating his close relatives and key aides. We don’t know whether the trip is politically motivated but what is clear is that the Chief Executive has the freedom to visit any place in our territory, just like ordinary people.
We expect Japan to react strongly to Lee’s offensive, especially given that the island country will go to the polls in several months. But Tokyo had better exercise restraint, taking into account that it is already engaged in territorial disputes with other countries. Last month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kuril Islands, which are under Russian jurisdiction but are also the subject of a territorial dispute with Japan.
It defies our understanding that Japanese media reported that Seoul notified Tokyo about Lee’s planned visit, which was flatly rejected by officials in Seoul. The confusion needs clarification.
No matter what Japan says, Dokdo is a part of our country. The nation should join forces to counter Japan’s misguided sovereignty claims decisively and resolutely.