South Korea is calling its ambassador to Japan home, in the latest
flare-up of a decades-old dispute. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from
Seoul, the islands at the heart of the conflict trigger some very
painful memories for Koreans.
South Korea's abrupt recall of its
ambassador came soon after the education ministry in Tokyo outlined
plans to issue new school books describing a disputed island chain as
rightfully belonging to Japan.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young says the country's ambassador will return home for the time being.
He says what Japan is doing is completely unacceptable.
rocky, almost uninhabitable islands in question lie about 200
kilometers off the southeastern coast of the Korean peninsula-- much
closer than they are to any Japanese territory. Japan calls them
Takeshima. South Korea calls them Dokdo, and has exercised de facto
control over them for decades. Seoul even stations a small number of
coast guard personnel there.
For Koreans, the islands'
geographical significance runs a distant second to their symbolism.
Japan subjected the Korean peninsula to harsh colonial rule during the
first half of the 20th century. South Koreans point to the Dokdo issue
as one of many examples of Japan failing to let go of its imperial past.
Korea's Foreign Minister summoned Japan's ambassador Monday to protest
the action. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has instructed
officials to deal with Japan's claim "sternly."
Presidential Spokesman Lee Dong-kwan calls it "deeply regrettable" that
Japan has again laid territorial claim to Dokdo in violation of
agreements. He says South Korea will take strong countermeasures to
preserve its sovereign control.
South Korean civic groups have
already begun taking to the streets. At a demonstration Monday,
protesters burned a Japanese flag and wrote slogans in blood on a South
Korean flag. South Korean political parties are also rallying behind
the government's assertions of sovereignty over the islands.
far, the dispute continues to play out diplomatically. Two years ago,
South Korea and Japan came within days of a possible sea skirmish when
South Korea sent coast guard vessels to intercept a Japanese maritime
survey of the islands being conducted without its permission.