Military exchange suspended as territorial dispute sours
Updated: 2012-09-04 08:09
By Agencies in Seoul and Beijing (China Daily)
South Korean protesters raise their arms during a rally on Thursday in Seoul, South Korea, against Japan's sovereignty claims over disputed islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. They are also demanding an apology and compensation for victims during Japanese colonial rule. Lee Jin-man / Associated Press
South Korea and Japan have temporarily suspended a military exchange program amid a territorial dispute over a set of islands, defense officials in Seoul said on Monday.
Japanese naval and air force commanders suspended trips to South Korea that were scheduled to start on Monday as part of a military exchange program, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
South Korea will suspend its commanders planned trips to Japan, a ministry spokesman told AFP.
"The move is temporary, reflecting strained ties between the two countries," he said.
The territorial dispute focuses on the islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, which lie in between the two countries.
Ministry officials said the dispute could affect other military exchange and cooperation programs if tensions escalate.
Huang Youfu, an expert in Korean studies at Minzu University of China in Beijing, said military cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo now faces a "far from promising" future owing to the influence of both countries' turbulent domestic politics.
The escalation of tension in the territorial dispute stems in part from the impending South Korean presidential election and the domestic political crisis that has haunted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Huang said. "The tension can diminish once the political arena of each country settles down", he said.
Relations between the two have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit to the islands on Aug 10.
He said his trip, the first by a South Korean president, was intended to press Japan to settle grievances left over from its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.
Lee further angered Japan by saying that Emperor Akihito must sincerely apologize for past if he wishes to visit South Korea.
"Territorial issues and historical factors, which have dogged diplomatic relations between some Northeast Asian countries, were among the major stumbling blocks between Japan and South Korea in furthering defense cooperation," Huang said.
In late June, Seoul decided to delay the signing of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, its first military pact with Tokyo, because Lee Myung-bak's governing party feared being labeled "pro-Japanese" by its domestic public.
Japan canceled a finance ministers' meeting scheduled for this month and said it would review a foreign exchange swap agreement with Seoul, as the rift threatened to spill over into economic ties.
Tokyo has also hinted it might freeze plans to buy South Korean government bonds under an agreement reached in May.
Last week, South Korea formally rejected Japan's proposal that the two ask an international court to settle their dispute.
Zhang Yunbi a nd Liu Yedan contributed to this story.
(China Daily 09/04/2012 page10)