Dokdo visit stunning, but rightPresident Lee Myung-bak visited the easternmost islets of Dokdo on Friday. The watershed visit, the first by a president to the contentious islets at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan, stunned and angered the Tokyo government, which warned of serious repercussions on Korea-Japan relations. There is nothing wrong about the top state executive visiting frontier territory as the head of command in national defense. Tokyo, however, is almost out of its mind over the incident. It reportedly is planning recall the Japanese ambassador in Seoul and protest to the South Korean ambassador in Tokyo. Japanese media highlighted Lee’s visit as a serious threat to bilateral relations.
President Lee, unlike his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, has maintained amicable relations with Japan. The opposition has scorned Lee’s stance toward Tokyo while criticizing the government’s plan to sign a military intelligence sharing pact with Japan. Lee’s sudden visit to Dokdo was a dramatic twist that few at home or in Japan would have imagined.
Lee may have taken the drastic and risky step to send a strong message to Japan over its recently renewed claim over Dokdo. Despite repeated protests, Japan has claimed ownership of Dokdo, called it Takeshima in Japanese, in school textbooks and a defense white paper. It instead protested to Seoul for stating sovereignty over the rocky volcanic islets in a government white paper on foreign affairs. The government has been reinforcing defense activities to reassert sovereignty in Dokdo while staying relatively tolerant on the diplomatic front. But Seoul decided on a bold diplomatic move in order to send a strong message.
Japan’s shock and exaggerated response to Lee’s visit is partly understandable. But Tokyo should realize how its deluded claim over its neighbor’s territory can damage relations. Korea-Japan relations cannot move beyond the bottleneck unless Japan sincerely apologizes for past atrocities and makes amends.
There is no question that Dokdo is ours. We have been occupying it as our own jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Japan has persistently irked us with claims over the islets, raising questions over how serious it is about building future ties. Japan must end its wishful thinking on our territory. Some Japanese media are raising hoopla over the incident that could stir up extreme rightists in Japan. The government must stay strong and defiant in defense of our territory.