News / Asia

Japan, S. Korea Disputed Island Spat Heats Up

A set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese is seen in this picture taken from a helicopter August 10, 2012.
A set of remote islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese is seen in this picture taken from a helicopter August 10, 2012.
SEOUL – Japan delivered a diplomatic document to South Korea Tuesday proposing that the two countries should take their territorial dispute over a group of small islets to the primary judicial entity of the United Nations. The Japanese request is receiving a chilly reception from South Korean officials.
South Korea is responding bluntly and unequivocally to the latest in a series of heated words exchanged between Seoul and Tokyo.
A Japanese envoy in Seoul turned up at the Foreign Ministry with what is known among diplomats as a “note verbale” - an unsigned communication more casual than a diplomatic note but more formal than an official letter.
South Korean diplomats bluntly told lawmakers and reporters that the communication is unworthy of consideration.
The Dokdo-Takeshima Islands

  • Known as Dokdo in Korean and as Takeshima in Japan
  • Claimed by Japan and South Korea
  • Occupied by South Korea since 1954
  • Located between the two countries in fish-rich waters
  • Uninhabited except for a South Korean Coast Guard outpost and an elderly couple
  • Less than 200,000 square meters in size
The Foreign Ministry's chief spokesman, Cho Tai-young, says Dokdo - the area known as Takeshima in Japanese and claimed by Japan - is clearly the territory of the Republic of Korea historically, geographically and under international law.
Cho says Japan's suggestion to take the issue to the International Court of Justice has no value because no territorial dispute exists and thus there is no need for negotiations.
The decades-long simmering dispute has been mostly dormant until recently.
Renewed references in Japanese government-approved textbooks and official documents upset people in South Korea. That was followed by an unprecedented trip by President Lee Myung-bak this month to the islets - also known as the Liancourt Rocks - which measure less than 19 hectares.
South Korea has maintained a presence on the islets since 1952 when its coast guard was dispatched to the rocks nearly equidistant from the Korean peninsula and the main Japanese island of Honshu.
Japan also finds itself in lingering territorial disputes with Beijing and Taipei over a group of Japanese-held tiny islands (known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese) and the more expansive southern Kuril chain (which Japan calls its Northern Territories), which have been in Moscow's hands since the end of the Second World War.
A former spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry, Tomohiko Taniguchi, says Japanese politicians and diplomats see a "dangerous trend taking shape" and are responding with forceful diplomacy against so-called Japan-bashing.
"There's been a notion gradually embedded into the minds of Japanese government leaders that a lot of provocations have been made, not only by the South Korean government but by the Chinese and Hong Kong people and Russia, precisely because the Japanese have become weaker both politically, but more importantly economically," Taniguchi said.
The South Korean president's recent call for Japan's emperor to explicitly apologize for his country's past aggression embittered even some of those in Japan who have worked for closer ties with Seoul.
Taniguchi, now a special guest professor at Keio University, says that was the second time this month Japan considered South Korea had crossed a red line.
"That's almost as if they put gasoline into fire," he said.
South Korea's government shows no interest in trying to defuse the situation.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan characterized as unfair Japan's protest about Lee's remarks regarding Emperor Akihito.
Kim, answering a question during a committee meeting of the National Assembly, said the president was responding to a question raised in a meeting with teachers - thus the call for an apology by the emperor was not a request that Seoul has officially communicated to Tokyo.
Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Ministry officials say a high-level Japanese diplomat  briefed his counterpart in Seoul by telephone Tuesday about Japan's upcoming talks with North Korea.
Officials in Tokyo have said the Red Cross talks, to be held in Beijing on August 29, will focus on humanitarian issues, including the unresolved abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s. But North Korea's state-run media has accused Japan of “chilling the atmosphere” by proposing to raise the sensitive matter at what would be the first such meeting between Japanese and North Korean officials in four years.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: japanese = war criminal from: U.S.
August 24, 2012 2:36 PM
Here we have another deceitufl japanese.
“Koreans have done the same thinga during wars.” Doing what? In what war? Can you even name one? Or am I asking too much for a thing without brain.
“There have been no changes to these laws so the islands belong to japan. Koreans have done the same thinga during wars.”

So are you barking that U.S. government is lying about the WWII? What? Are you trying to tell me japan actually did not cowardly attacked the pearl harbor? Do you even know what was the condition japanese surrender at the end of the WWII?

Before barking about something you don’t know anything at all, Before barking about something, your intellectual capability can’t handle…
Why don’t you get a brain first? It is pathetic to read a loser’s comment in public domain.

by: Ray Santana from: Usa
August 21, 2012 8:06 PM
These islands are clearly Japanese territory. When the US forced Japan to surrender the land aken during the war they believed that the Takeshima islands belonged to Japan. So under the laws set in place after the war Japan was alliwed to keep the islands. There have been no changes to these laws so the islands belong to japan. Koreans have done the same thinga during wars. The majority of japanese and the government owe no apology to Korea for they did not commit those crimes. Just as I don't hold all Koreans or their governmennt countable for things that they did or modern germans accountable for the holocaust. Stop being so damn ignorant
In Response

by: Paul N. from: Canada
August 24, 2012 10:26 AM
China attacked India in 1962 and captured 32000 km2, attacked USSR in 1969 and captured Russian islands in Ussuri and Amur Rivers, attacked Vietnam in 1974, 1979,1988 and captured 700 square km, Paracel Islands and many islands of Spratly Islands and captured many Philippines islands and atolls there. Now they want to invade whole of South China Sea to increase 25% China territory. China also want to capture the island of Japan…
American history has many lessons. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1933, China asked the U.S. for help but it ignored. Then US faced Japan was stronger after captured China. Today China is a bloodthirsty demon. America did nothing when China invaded Tibet in 1950. U.S fixed the mistake and saved India 1962. Do The U.S. and other countries have to do something to save the small countries in South East Asia?
In Response

by: boning from: china
August 24, 2012 1:46 AM
to Hoang
do you konow Zengmu Ansha,Western call it James Shoal) belong to china ? it is The southernmost tip of China's territory ,so it is fair that china claim most of South China Sea,If these territory does not belong to China, because many country claim them, it will cause more regional conflicts ,Therefore, Apart from historical factors that china has these territory sovereignty,the best thing to do is to take the south China sea to China to management .
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
August 23, 2012 11:28 AM
to Boning from,
Look what China has done in East sea and also has island dispute with Japan. China is far from Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands(belong to Vietnam) and Coral reef of Phillipines and China claim entire East Sea. China continue to kill defenceless Vietnamese fishermen, whose forefathers have been fishing in Vietnamese waters for centuries.
In Response

by: M from: Canada
August 23, 2012 10:34 AM
Korea makes copy products. Foods, TV shows, cartoons magazines, general products...etc... and China does the same.

In Response

by: boning from: china
August 23, 2012 2:05 AM
I think these island is near South Korean,so they should belong to South Korean,just like you can not go to other's backyard without permitting,japan killed many people in Asian country in world war II,They have the robber logic

by: Samurai from: Japan
August 21, 2012 10:51 AM
"Cho Tai-young, says Takeshima is clearly the territory of the Republic of Korea historically, geographically and under international law."-----This is very funny. Why S. Korea does not fairly and squarely claim it in the international court, then?
Takeshima (Don't call it with such a funny name "Dokdo") is an inherent Japanese territory in the interests of justice. I expected that Koreans have also learned manners and ethics from Confucius, to no avail.
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
August 23, 2012 11:35 AM
To Id and Sing from U.S. Japan has helped Korea economically since world war 2. Japan has given the most aid to poor countries around the world including Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese starved during Japanese occupation during world war 2 but the Vietnamese hold no grudges against the Japanese. Modern Japan is different from Japan during world war 2. China is the present day evil and threat to world peace and claim entire East Sea and has dispute with every countries at its borders. China continue to oppress Tibet and killing defenceless Vietnamese fishermen.
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 21, 2012 8:35 PM
to ssaulab

Show us the historical evidence that Takeshima belongs to Korea.Be rational. Do not be like a spoiled child. Why doesn't Korea attend ICJ? Your answer is Takeshima is needless to say belongings of Korea? You doesn't need to show your justice? It's the same as a spoiled child's answer.
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 21, 2012 8:05 PM
to japanese = untrustworthy

Show historical evidence that Takeshima belongs to Korea. Be rational. Confort women during WWII have nothing to do with this territorial issue. Do not be like a spoiled child. Come on to ICJ!
In Response

by: ld from: US
August 21, 2012 5:49 PM
Japan currently is disputing with Russia, China, and Korea for islands that are so close to those three countries. Seems to me that Japan really wants to claim all islands in the world, including Pearl Harbor again!!! Come on, be real. They killed so many people in world war two and never shows any remorse. And now still trying very hard to change the history to cover their real face of aggression. People should band together to boycott them to give them as lesson economically.
In Response

by: Sing from: USA
August 21, 2012 3:16 PM
For the imperialistic Japanese: Akihito is a war criminal and have not formally apologized for invasion of Asian countries. You can use beautiful words to cover your crimes. Invasion is not called enter into; sex slaves is not call comfort women. No much mentioned of using human captured in war as testing material for biological and chemical warfare.Act like the Germans in the WWII now they are respectable powers. Politicians going to the Shinto Temple to pay respect to war criminals is showing that Japan is still not repented. China and Japan will be at war within 20 years.
In Response

by: ssaulabi from: Korea
August 21, 2012 12:33 PM
What a funny joke! Dokdo belongs to Korea. No doubt. Why does Korea go to the court? Reading the history of Japan, everyone knows Japan is the invader during World War 2. Even now, Japan has tried to make dispute against China. Please, take care your nuclear weapons, poor thing.
In Response

by: towmater from: Japan
August 21, 2012 12:18 PM
>Jonathan huang

china go to ICJ, then japan go to there too.
In Response

by: JC from: US
August 21, 2012 12:13 PM
The perception in Korea is that its already theirs -- why open the door to an international body as if to question themselves on whether they really own Dokdo/Takeshima. IMHO, most countries would take Korea's position in their situation -- so not sure what is so funny about it. I think there is also even more fear with the fact that Japan has one judge on the bench in the ICF as well.

That said, its unfortunate that South Korea and Japan are having this dispute now. But to be fair, Japan has been non-responsive/insensitive the last four years. In a way -- they brought the ire of South Korea on themselves when President Lee (being IMHO pro-Japan at that time) attempted to try and get those things addressed and was willing to work closely with Japan. Both countries need to get it together -- South Korea's stubbornness/anger rooted in its wounds from Japanese atrocities and Japan in its lack of genuine contrition for those atrocities and failure to be sensitive to issues that are important to their neighbors.
In Response

by: japanese = untrustworthy from: U.S.
August 21, 2012 11:59 AM
look at this brainless comment. in what universe Dokdo was ever japan's territory? Where japan choose their emperors based upon their faggetness?
"Dokdo was an inherent japs' territory and interests of justice?" It's funny, japanese are always fabricating history and raping women during a wartime and the same japanese is barking about justice? Of course, I am not surprised at all current japan's aggression toward Korea and tried to steal the soveriegnty and territory of Koreans as well as manipulating history. After all, being a liar and a theif is japan's true and only nature.
Remeber enforcing sex slave during WWII? of course, you won't remember, it would be too smart for you to remember, right?
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
August 21, 2012 11:11 AM
Why doesnt Japan go to ICJ for Diaoyu island dispute as China request?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs