Accessibility links

Last Minute Diplomacy Averts Standoff Between South Korea, Japan

  • Kurt Achin

Senior envoys from Japan and South Korea have resolved the latest flare-up in a decades-long dispute over islands that both nations claim. Japan says it will drop its plan to conduct a scientific survey near the islands, which had prompted an emotional reaction in South Korea. The South Koreans made concessions, as well.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi and his South Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan, succeeded in defusing a tense confrontation after a long day of talks Saturday.

Yu told reporters, Japan has decided to cancel plans to conduct a scientific survey near tiny islands, over which both countries claim sovereignty.

He says, in exchange for Japan's conciliation, South Korea will delay a proposal to give Korean names to ocean features near the islands.

Seoul was planning to propose those new names at an international conference in June. Japan argued that its survey was necessary to gather data, in order to counter the South Korean proposal.

Days of threats and emotional statements followed, and Japan dispatched two survey ships toward the disputed area. South Korea responded by sending at least 20 coast guard vessels to the area, and warning that Japan would be responsible, if there were a physical confrontation at sea.

As the comments from Seoul became more heated, Japan on Friday rushed a diplomat to the South Korean capital to try to defuse the confrontation.

The talks ended without agreement Saturday morning, but Japan's envoy reportedly requested "one more try."

South Korea controls the island group, which it calls Dokdo, with a small police presence. Japan, which calls the islands Takeshima, held them during its 35-year colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

The two countries have disputed the status of the islands, since Japan's defeat in the Second World War. The issue is intensely emotional for South Koreans, who say Japan's recent actions are part of a pattern of failing to let go of its imperial past.

Not all diplomacy between the two nations is so strained. The two are partners in trying to bring North Korea back to multinational talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. And South Korean officials have praised Japan's determination in seeking answers from Pyongyang about Japanese and South Koreans abducted by North Korea during the Cold War.

XS
SM
MD
LG