South Korea’s military began annual drills today around a set of rocky islands also claimed by Japan, days after planned talks between the two countries’ leaders were abandoned after a spat over an Olympics map.
Seoul and Tokyo have been at odds over the sovereignty of the islets, called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, which lie about halfway between the neighbours in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
The decades-long territorial ruckus was rekindled at the G7 after South Korea lodged a protest over a map on the Tokyo Olympics website marking the islands as Japanese territory.
Tokyo rejected Seoul’s demand to change the map and South Korea asked the International Olympic Committee to mediate the dispute, while some South Korean politicians called for a boycott of the Games.
Relations between the two neighbours have been frosty for a while, amid feuds over the islets, trade, and the issue of compensation for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.
Seoul’s defence ministry said that naval, air and coast guard forces will join the drills which will be staged mostly at sea with minimal contact between troops due to coronavirus concerns,
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier reported Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took issue over the drills and called off planned talks with President Moon Jae-in at the G7 summit in England over the weekend.
An official at South Korea’s foreign ministry told Reuters today that the meeting could not be held, without specifying why.
When asked if a dispute over the drills was the reason, the official said: “The exercises are regularly held every year for the purpose of defending our territory.”
The Korean drills around the islets have taken place twice a year since 1986, prompting regular protests from Japan.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato yesterday denied the Yonhap report, saying it was “one-sided” and the talks did not happen simply due to scheduling difficulties.
Today, Kato said Tokyo has lodged a protest with Seoul over the exercises, saying the islands are Japanese territory historically and under international law.
He told a news conference, “This sort of drill is unacceptable and extremely regrettable.”