South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak visits disputed islands

 

South Korean president Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit today to islets at the centre of a long-running territorial dispute with Japan, ignoring warnings from Tokyo that it would worsen the neighbours' already strained relations.

Mr Lee made the trip to the rocky, largely uninhabited outcroppings in fish-rich waters with the governor of North Gyeongsang province, according to an official in the governor's office.

Before the trip, officials said a visit would make Mr Lee the first South Korean leader to travel to the islets.

Mr Lee also briefly visited nearby Ulleung Island, which is home to a large South Korean population and not part of the territorial dispute.

The visit to the islets, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, comes as Mr Lee's conservative party jockeys for votes ahead of hotly contested December presidential elections.

Mr Lee, whose popularity has steadily dropped, is in the last year of his five-year presidency and cannot run for re-election.

The trip also comes on the eve of the men's bronze medal Olympic football match between Japan and South Korea and days ahead of South Korea's commemoration on Wednesday of the peninsula's independence in 1945 from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule.

South Korea stations a small contingent of police officers on the disputed islets in a show of control, but Japan maintains that the rocks are its territory, renewing the claim last month in an annual defence report.

Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba warned before the visit that it would have a "strong impact" on relations and urged Seoul to call it off.

The outcroppings have long been a source of discord, even though the two countries share vibrant trade and tourism ties and are both partners in diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its long-range missile and nuclear arms programmes.

Historical and territorial issues, however, plague the relationship. Many people on the Korean Peninsula continue to harbour deep resentment stemming from Tokyo's brutal colonisation.

South Korea and Japan also remain at odds over what many South Koreans say is Japan's failure to properly address its past actions, including Japan's Second World War use of Korean women as sexual slaves for its soldiers.

In late June, Seoul and Tokyo put on hold an intelligence sharing pact seen as a breakthrough in their relations after a political outcry in South Korea.

South Korean activists last year placed a statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese sexual slavery in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Japanese officials have apologised in the past, but Tokyo has refused repeated demands from individuals for reparations, saying the matter was solved by international peace treaties.

Last year, Seoul banned three conservative Japanese lawmakers from entering South Korea after they arrived at a Seoul airport with announced plans to travel near the islets.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power