Japan Boosts Security of Outlying Islands Amid Regional Disputes

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister. Photographer: Tatsuyuki Tayam/Pool via Bloomberg

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the government will increase security around its outlying islands amid maritime territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

“It is important to explain to our people how we are protecting our territory and our waters,” Noda said at a press conference today in Tokyo. He urged parliament’s upper house to pass a law allowing the Coast Guard to make arrests on land.

Noda called South Korea’s occupation of a set of rocky islets “illegal.” He said the government would do all it can to prevent a recurrence of last week’s landing by Chinese activists on islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan and claimed by both countries.

The disputes have damaged ties between three of Asia’s four biggest economies at a time when the region’s leaders have stressed coordinated action to counter the European debt crisis. The three countries reached a bond purchase deal in May that may be in jeopardy after Finance Minister Jun Azumi said today Japan may not buy South Korean bonds.

The comments came a day after the two countries played a game of diplomatic ping pong over a letter Noda wrote to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. A South Korean official tried yesterday to return the letter protesting Lee’s Aug. 10 visit to the islets known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, only to be denied entry to the foreign ministry in Tokyo. The letter was mailed to the ministry and accepted today.

Noda’s letter was returned because it referred to the islets by the Japanese name, South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters yesterday in Seoul. Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who called the action “diplomatically inconceivable” yesterday, said today the letter had arrived and that the government won’t send it back.

Competing Denunciations

Japan’s parliament passed a resolution today denouncing South Korea’s actions, while South Korea’s foreign ministry released a statement “strongly demanding Japan not to repeat its wrongful claims on our sovereignty.”

The islets are 87 kilometers (54 miles) east of the closest South Korean territory and 158 kilometers from the nearest Japanese land. Sovereignty over the area means control of fishing grounds and natural gas reserves, and South Korea has bolstered its claims by stationing coast guard personnel there year-round.

Noda’s letter proposed taking the dispute to the United Nations International Court of Justice, which South Korea has rejected. It also objected to Lee’s comments saying Emperor Akihito should apologize for Japanese aggression during the first half of the 20th century, when it occupied the Korean peninsula and much of China, before making any visit to South Korea.

The Japan-China dispute escalated after a group from Hong Kong was arrested and deported last week for landing on islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Japanese activists landed there days later, sparking protests in Hong Kong and China.

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