The recent face-off between South Korea and Japan over a group of islands in the Sea of Japan may put in jeopardy the peace and security of not only Japan and South Korea but also that of entire Asia, unfortunately, in today’s world when geo-politics is moving toward the East.
With Friday's surprise visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the disputed islands, known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, South Korea's decades-long territorial dispute with its former colonial ruler Japan over these bunch of isles has cropped up, forcing Japan - otherwise a peace-loving and highly enterprising nation - to obviously recall its ambassador in protest.
These disputed isles are spread over around less than 0.2 sq km in area and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds with likely large-scale deposits of natural gas. Although South Korea has maintained its claim since 1954, the dispute has marred the two countries' otherwise close cooperation, between their shared concerns over North Korea’s on-going missile and nuclear weapons program.
Lying almost midway between South Korea and Japan, the rocky volcanic outcrops has eco-strategic importance for both countries. Perhaps to outmaneuver Japan, the South Korean president solemnised his first-ever visit there disregarding Japan’s stern warnings that the visit would strain the already tense relations between them. Not only that, President Lee toured the main island and also shook hands with coast guard personnel as a South Korean flag fluttered in the breeze, claiming, “Dokodo is our territory. We must keep it under our close guard.” Perhaps, in a rare display of his command over the disputed area, the visiting South Korean leader posed for a photograph before a rock painted with the slogan “ROK (South Korean) territory.”
In fact, South Korea is preparing to build a naval base on its Uileung island just 87 kilometers away from the islands with a view to ensure quick deployment of its own warships as compared to that of Japan in the event of an eruption of any dispute between them. Once the naval base is ready, South Korean navy vessels could reach the disputed islands about 75 minutes faster than that of Japanese ships. Also, the presidential election in South Korea is due in December but though President Lee is constitutionally barred from a second term, his nationalist agenda will inevitably be carried ahead by his successor.
So far, Japan has reacted wisely as per canons of international law without taking recourse to any confrontational or aggressive postures against South Korea, much to the respite of the whole world. Against this backdrop, Japan’s strong protest and its recall of its ambassador from Seoul is not a good omen for their cordial relationship. It cannot help but encourage North Korea - already a potential threat like Iran because of its secret nuclear weapons program - to settle its scores with South Korea in the resulting melee.
Furthermore, the U.S. would also find it very difficult to intervene because, on the one hand it has to deal with a likely nuclear North Korea, and it also has to keep a fine balance between both of its allies in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a check on China's rising imperialist assertions in the region.
Since the 21st century is being declared as that of Asia, its progress and prosperity will eventually depend only on peaceful and cordial relations among its member nations.© Japan Today