(AA) – Recent signs of an improvement in Seoul-Tokyo ties took a further step back Tuesday as Tokyo reiterated its self-proclaimed sovereignty over South Korean-controlled islets positioned between the two countries.
Just a day earlier, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry had summoned Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho to deliver a message of protest after Monday’s announcement that Tokyo would intensify efforts to include its territorial claim to the islets in school textbooks.
Japan appeared to disregard South Korea’s reproach as it published its 2015 Diplomatic Bluebook on Tuesday — repeating its long-held argument that the territory it refers to as Takeshima belongs to Tokyo.
Known in South Korea as Dokdo, and internationally as the Liancourt Rocks, the islets lie closer to the Korean Peninsula than Japan, while also hosting a small South Korean police and residential presence.
The dispute between the two sides has become a symbol of post-colonial South Korean resentment, highlighting the allegation that Japan has lacked sincerity in atoning for its twentieth-century abuses in Korea.
But a recent incidental meeting of the two countries’ leaders at the funeral of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, following trilateral foreign minister-level talks involving China, seemed to signal cause for optimism.
Whether South Korean President Park Geun-hye agrees to a first official summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely depend on the latter’s attitude toward resolving the grievances of ageing former Korean sex slaves — known euphemistically as “comfort women” during Tokyo’s imperial rule.
On Monday, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry accused Japan of an attempt to “distort unequivocal historical facts.”
The ministry also referred to 2015 as a “landmark” — as it represents 50 years of Seoul-Tokyo diplomatic ties as well as 70 years since the end of World War II.