Tokyo slams Seoul over returned letter

Updated: 2012-08-25 00:37

(China Daily)

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Tokyo on Friday slammed Seoul's decision to return a protest letter as showing no signs of "basic diplomatic courtesy", as both countries stepped up their emotional row over disputed islands.

The islands, known in English as Liancourt Rocks, in Japanese as Takeshima and in Korean as Dokdo, lie equidistant between South Korea and Japan. The lonely set of islets coveted for the rich mineral resources in the surrounding waters has been a chronic source of diplomatic tension between the two Asian neighbors.

South Korea sent back a letter that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrote to his counterpart Lee Myung-bak, in which the Japanese leader protested against Lee’s high-profile visit to the disputed islands earlier this month.

In the letter, Noda also proposed taking the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice, a move dismissed repeatedly by Seoul officials as "unworthy of consideration".

Noda — accused by the opposition of being too soft on territorial disputes — has been trying to walk a fine line, fending off criticism, while trying to keep the feuds from spinning out of control.

"In order to protect our national interests, I will say what we must say and do what should be done," he told a news conference.

Noda blasted Seoul’s decision to send back his protest letter as showing no "basic diplomatic courtesy" and said the move is "not constructive". He called on South Korea to ease the current diplomatic tension "in a wise and cautious manner".

Noda said he had no specific economic steps in mind to take in the dispute, but Finance Minister Jun Azumi earlier suggested that the government might not extend a currency-swap arrangement with South Korea after it expires in October.

He also said Japan was reconsidering a plan to buy South Korean government debt.

"Things have reached the point where the Japanese people may not be able to accept the argument that political relations and economic relations are separate," Azumi told reporters.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported that Japan was leaning toward aborting its plan to buy South Korean government bonds, saying the government believed it would not be understood by the public, given the diplomatic climate.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry earlier in the day summoned a Japanese envoy to protest Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba’s claim that Seoul is illegally occupying the disputed islands.

With the two countries still at odds over a number of historical issues, many South Koreans see recurring territorial disputes as a sign of an unrepentant Japan.

South Korea has maintained its control over the rocky outcroppings since it regained independence from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

Last month, South Korea’s attempt to forge its first military pact with Japan since the end of colonial rule was thwarted at the last minute by an outraged public that had become weary of Japan’s resurgent military ambitions.