[EDITORIALS]Fishing in Troubled Waters

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[EDITORIALS]Fishing in Troubled Waters

Differences between Seoul and Tokyo over South Korean boats fishing in the seas south of the Kuril Islands, a territory claimed by both Russia and Japan, is growing into a diplomatic dispute. The Korean government conveyed its intention to go ahead with fishing operations in the seas south of the Kurils despite Japanese government protests.

In retaliation, the Japanese government barred entry to South Korean mackerel boats to the seas off Sanriku northeast of Japan. That area is in Japan's exclusive economic zone. Seoul said it will react if Japan does not end the retaliatory measure, portending a fisheries dispute between the two countries.

For Japan to claim that South Korean fishing boats are infringing on Japanese sovereignty by operating out of the seas south of the Kuril Islands is nonsense. The islands are claimed by Japan but controlled by Russia. Korean fishing boats are operating there under a legitimate commercial pact negotiated with Moscow. Japan's claim amounts to asking fishing boats of third countries to obtain Japanese permission to work in the seas surrounding Tokto islet. Japan should make such claims only after regaining control of the islands from Russia.

Excluding South Korean fishing boats from its exclusive economic zone violates the bilateral fisheries agreement between Seoul and Tokyo. Under the agreement, the two nations have to allow entry of fishing boats provided that the concerned boats do not exceed a set quota for the year. Japan's retaliation against South Korean mackerel boats is a unilateral step that threatens to break the foundations of the bilateral fisheries agreement. It is also a step that augers poorly for long-term relations between the neighboring countries.

Japan has not responded to the Seoul government's demand of two months ago for the revision of 35 disputed descriptions in a controversial history text book. Tensions, already running high between the two nations and its peoples, are likely to escalate. Japan can prevent a collapse of bilateral relations by immediately rescinding the retaliatory measure which barred Korean fishing boats' entry into its exclusive economic zone.
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