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South Korea Preparing for 'All Scenarios' in Island Dispute With Japan

South Korea is using unusually stern language to warn Japan against conducting a scientific survey near islands that both countries claim as their own. Japan calls it no big deal, but Seoul is treating talk of a survey as an "offensive provocation" by Tokyo. A large number of South Korean coast guard vessels are headed to the disputed area to ensure that Japan takes the warnings seriously.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that Seoul is preparing "countermeasures for all scenarios" in the dispute with Japan.

Ban says if Japan pushes ahead with a planned scientific survey into South Korean waters, South Korea will react sternly in accordance with all international and domestic laws.

A Korean official says privately that the country would be within its legal rights in stopping, boarding and even seizing any Japanese ship that attempted to carry out such a survey in South Korean territorial waters.

The dispute centers around a handful of tiny islands that South Korea calls Dokdo, and Japan calls Takeshima. South Korea controls the islands with a small police presence, but both countries claim sovereignty over them.

Seoul dispatched at least 18 Coast Guard vessels to the island region Wednesday. The Japanese coast guard says two survey ships have left port for the general area of the islands.

Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe called for calm Wednesday, but says Tokyo will not give in to South Korea's demand that it call off the survey.

Abe says Japan is within its legal rights to conduct the survey, and will do so without making a big deal of it. He says Tokyo expects that both countries will deal with the matter in a level-headed manner.

However, the dispute is an extremely emotional one here, and it unites Koreans across the political spectrum. Japan did not begin to control the islands in question until 1905, when it imposed 35 years of harsh colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. Many Koreans view Japan's claim to the islands as part what they see as Tokyo's failure to divorce itself from its imperial past.

Speaking to South Korea's MBC radio network, Song Min-soon, chief secretary of security to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, warned Japan to treat the issue with caution.

In response to a question about a possible clash between South Korean and Japanese vessels, Song says Japan would bear full responsibility for any "worst-case scenario."

The North Korean authorities added their voice to the dispute Wednesday, calling Japan "ever more shameless" in its attempt to distort history.

South Korean President Roh says Japan's behavior may mean it is time to rethink Seoul's overall approach to its dealings with Tokyo.

Mr. Roh says up to now, he has dealt with Japan using what he calls "quiet diplomacy." Now, he says, the time may have come to adopt a more aggressive approach.