- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
It’s been a week of high-profile political stunts surrounding the disputed volcanic islands that are known in Korea as Dokdo, in Japan as Takeshima, but will be referred to for the purposes of this post as the Liancourt Rocks. Last Friday, Lee Myung-bak — gearing up for a presidential election in December — became the first South Korean president to ever visit the rocks, prompting Tokyo to recall its ambassador from Seoul.
Then, things spilled over onto the football pitch when South Korea defeated Japan in Friday’s bronze-medal match:
The International Olympic Committee is temporarily withholding a bronze medal from a South Korean football player who displayed a political sign after a win against Japan.
Midfielder Park Jong-woo brandished a banner referring to islands claimed by both South Korea and Japan.
The IOC barred him from taking part in Saturday’s medal ceremony.
Now, a group of South Koreans are swimming to the Liancourts:
More than 40 South Koreans have begun a relay swim of more than 200km (124 miles) to islands also claimed by Japan amid a serious diplomatic row between the two neighbours.
The team of swimmers, led by South Korean singer Kim Jang-hoon, plan to reach the islands on Wednesday, which marks the anniversary of the country’s liberation from Japan in 1945.
"Dokdo belongs to the Republic of Korea, so we will shout, ‘Go for it with the Republic of Korea,’" Mr Kim told reporters before the swim began.
As if that wasn’t enough:
In another apparent statement on the islands, South Korea has also revealed plans to name a group of spindle trees on the island as a national monument, Yonhap news agency reports.
There are only two permanent residents on the islands — an elderly Korean fisherman and his wife — but there are potential energy deposits in the area, not to mention national pride at stake. This week’s gestures are actually fairly mild. In 2005, after a Japanese prefecture declared a "Takeshima day," a South Korean mother and son sliced off their fingers outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest.
(The photo above is from a fashion show held on nearby Ulleung island to promote South Korean sovereignty over the Liancourts on Aug. 10.)