July 18, 2011 14:06
The government is in a quandary over plans by nationalist Japanese MPs to visit Ulleung island, the nearest easily accessible island to Korea's Dokdo. The lawmakers, from the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, apparently intend to make the trip next month to highlight Japan's dubious claim to the islets.
But there is no legal basis for stopping the visit, and hasty attempts to thwart the trip could trigger diplomatic friction and lend needless importance to Japan's territorial claim.
Japanese media reported Friday that the LDP lawmakers plan to visit Korea on Aug. 1-4. They want to meet Korean lawmakers on Aug. 1 and board a ferry to Ulleung the next day, where they plan to spend the night and visit the Dokdo Museum.
Korean lawmakers were up in arms. Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae-oh tweeted, "If their visit aims at supporting their country's groundless territorial claim on Dokdo, it's tantamount to encroachment of Korea's sovereignty. I will use all means to stop them landing on the island."
But a Foreign Ministry official said, "There is no legal basis for preventing the visit if they enter the country legally and tour Ulleung Island without violating any laws." The official added the ministry “is monitoring the situation” in case the visitors clash with patriotic Korean lawmakers or civic groups.
The visit could be tit-for-tat for a visit by three Korean lawmakers to Russia’s Kuril Islands in May, which Japan also claims. The Korean lawmakers are members of a National Assembly group that aims to protect Korea's sovereignty over the Dokdo Islets.
A government official said, "There is no telling what would happen diplomatically" if the government intervened, "and there is no need to get drawn into in a territorial dispute. The Dokdo islets are under Korean administrative control, so we need to think about the ramifications of drawing global attention to Japan's ludicrous territorial claims."
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