South Korean lawmakers visited a group of rocky islets at the center of a long-standing dispute with Japan, defying the Japanese government’s request yesterday to call off the trip.
The lawmakers, members of parliament’s national defense committee, left from the southeastern city of Busan this afternoon, police official Kim Do Han said by telephone. He declined to say when they’d arrive, citing security concerns.
In August, Lee Myung Bak became the first South Korean president to visit the islets, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, souring ties between Asia’s second and fourth-biggest economies. The spat led the two sides not to renew a currency swap deal and South Korea has said free trade negotiations will lag until the situation is resolved.
“We’ve confirmed that the committee members landed on Takeshima,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters in Tokyo. “Takeshima is sovereign Japanese territory and as such this is completely unacceptable.” He said yesterday the Japanese embassy in Seoul had asked the South Korean government to cancel the parliamentarians’ trip.
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 gives the holder control of fishing grounds and natural gas reserves. South Korea has bolstered its claims by stationing coast guard personnel there year-round.
Japan is also mired in a maritime row with China over islands in the East China Sea, hurting Japanese companies such as Nissan Motor Co. that do business in China at a time when exports are falling.