South Korea‘s President Lee Myung-Bak is making an abrupt visit today to a group of islets in the Sea of Japan that are disputed between the governments of Tokyo and Seoul. While South Korea maintains control over the islets they call the Dokdo, Japan claims ownership over the territory, calling it Takeshima. Officials in Seoul only gave the heads-up to Tokyo on Thursday, which has prompted an outcry from the Japanese government, with Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba stating there would be consequences.
Lee’s visit would be the first from a South Korean head of state since the dispute between the two countries began decades ago, following the Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula. The islands are located about 87 kilometers (54 miles) from the closest South Korean territory, while Japan’s shortest reach is 158 kilometers (98 miles). Foreign Minister Genba says the visit will have an impact on the two nations’ relations, and that it is in direct opposition to Japan’s claims.
In almost an exact mirroring of Japan’s dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, the importance of Takeshima, or Dokdo, is that the islands are located in waters valuable to the fishing industries of both countries, and the area is believed to have reserves of natural gas and possibly oil. Relations between Tokyo and Seoul are already in a somewhat strained states, as just over a month ago a significant military agreement, the first ever between the two nations, that would see them sharing military intelligence was called off only hours before the signing ceremony was to begin.[via Korea Herald]