- By Edmund DownieEdmund Downie is a Yale University Gordon Grand Fellow currently interning at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He works on the regional political economy of Asia. Follow him at @ned_downie.
What is it this summer with East Asia and contested islands? June and July saw the resumption of a longstanding dispute involving China and a handful of Southeast Asian countries over the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.
Now, it’s Japan and South Korea who are feuding. Yesterday, South Korea barred entry to three Japanese lawmakers who flew into Seoul to travel to the Liancourt Rocks, a chain of volcanic islets between the two countries under dispute since the end of World War II. The politicians, all members of the Japanese diet, had announced their trip in late July, a month after Korean Air routed a test flight of a new aircraft over the island chain. Japan responded at the time by instituting a one-month boycott of Korean Air flights among its diplomats, and the latest trip had been intended as a means to reassert Japanese sovereignty over the islands.
Provocations over the Liancourt Rocks dispute are a fairly regular gesture from South Korean and Japanese politicians looking to curry favor among nationalists at home. But South Korea’s posturing also attracts support from a surprising source: North Korea. Kim Jong-Il’s regime tends to echo its neighbors to the south when the Liancourt Rocks dispute crops up, according to the Diplomat.
This time was no different. On July 20, a characteristically thundering commentary on Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s official website, condemned Japan for its latest plans to infringe upon Korean sovereignty. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency translates from the statement:
"We are determined to take 1,000 times our people’s revenge for Japan’s reactionary moves, which, far from apologizing or compensating for the immeasurable unhappiness and pain inflicted upon our people, only scheme to take away our land….
"The entire people must unite to resolutely crush the scheme to seize Dokdo, in order that the Japanese reactionaries may never again set sight on our land. This is our generation’s demand and the call of the people."
The lawmakers’ actual visit occasioned a reiteration of the North Korean stance from the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Unification of Korea. The committee also takes a swipe at South Korea’s "passive approach" in resolving the dispute. Once again, from Yonhap:
"The Japanese reactionaries’ recent moves are serious issues not to be tolerated by the Korean nation as they revealed once again their ambition to seize Ullung Island and Tok Islets, inalienable parts of the territory of Korea. …
"It is due to the present South Korean ruling forces’ servile attitude toward Japan … that the Japanese reactionaries are set to visit the Tok Islets like their own land."
Also going down in the annals of uncharacteristic recent behavior from North Korea: After allowing the establishment of an AP bureau in Pyongyang earlier this year, the North Korean government allowed two AP photographers unusually wide access to tour both Pyongyang and the North Korean countryside, albeit with minders. The Atlantic has culled the best of their photos here and they’re worth a look.