South Korea has rejected a Japanese proposal to settle their territorial dispute at the International Court of Justice. Separately, tensions are continuing between Japan and China, after 10 Japanese activists swam to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands on Sunday. The incident follows the arrest and subsequent deporting of 14 pro-China Hong Kong activists who landed on the islands last week.
South Korea rejects Japanese proposal to go to ICJ
South Korea has rejected Japan's formal proposal that the two countries ask the International Court of Justice to settle a long-running island dispute.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan dismissed the suggestion, saying it was "not worth consideration".
Mr. Kim earlier told a parliamentary session that South Korea would take "stern measures" if Japan continued to raise an "unjustified" issue over the islets.
South Korea has previously rejected proposals from Japan in 1954 and 1962 to seek a ruling from the court in the Hague, a judicial body under the United Nations that addresses disputes between countries.
The dispute between South Korea and Japan flared after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak visited the Dokdo islands, also known as Takeshima in Japan, on 10 August. The islands are currently controlled by South Korea, but claimed by both Seoul and Tokyo. Mr. Lee is the first South Korean President to visit the islands, and the move won him praise at home. The visit came ahead of the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II last week.
Tensions were further fuelled when two Japanese cabinet officials visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine last week. The shrine honours all of Japan's war dead, but this includes several convicted war criminals, making visits by politicians to the shrine highly controversial.
In a bid to pressure South Korea, Tokyo has been considering a review of its currency swap agreement with South Korea. Under the current deal, the two nations can exchange up to US$70 billion worth of currency in a scheme designed to prevent financial crisis.
A landmark military intelligence agreement between the two countries to share information has already been postponed.
Japan protesters land on islands, angering China
Meanwhile, 10 Japanese nationalists landed on an island chain claimed by both Japan and China on Sunday, sparking anger in Beijing. Over 100 Japanese sailed to the Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands, and 10 members of the group swam ashore to the largest island in the chain.
They waved Japanese flags on the islands, where a group of Chinese activists had landed just days before. Of the 10 who visited the island, five were reportedly conservative assembly members in local Japanese government.
Last week, 14 pro-China Hong Kong citizens were arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard, after taking a fishing boat to the disputed islands. The 14 included both protesters and at least two journalists travelling with the group. The 14 were released on Friday. The timing of last week's landing was intended to coincide with the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
The disputed islands are largely uninhabited, but they are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain fuel deposits.
According to SIIA Chairman Simon Tay, the tensions between Japan, South Korea and China is troubling. "Relations among the three Northeast Asian giants have never been close and, while military confrontation can be avoided, other impacts must be anticipated. Just in May this year, the governments inked an investment agreement promised to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement. Likely, the current tensions will stall that effort."
The disputes may also affect US policy in Asia.
"While the USA is not a claimant to any of these islands, there are also implications for the Obama administration’s pivot to the region. Some had expected that Seoul and Tokyo, as American treaty allies, would be brought into a closer relationship. But the present turn of events makes any such triangulation of ties unlikely."
Japan to replace envoys
According to Japanese media reports, Japan will shortly replace its ambassadors to China, South Korea and the United States in an unusual simultaneous move.
The government is expected to officially announce the moves after the current session of parliament ends on September 8, said Kyodo news agency.
In addition to the disputes with Beijing and Seoul, Tokyo's ties with Washington have also stalled over the relocation of a major US military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Report: South Korea rejects Japan's court proposal in island row [Channel NewsAsia (AFP), 21 Aug 2012]
Report: Tensions rise as 10 Japanese land on isle [TODAY, 20 Aug 2012]
Analysis: Dispute Over Islands Reflects Japanese Fear of China’s Rise [New York Times, 21 Aug 2012]