Japan Returns Ambassador to S.Korea Amid Island Dispute

Posted August 22nd, 2012 at 1:45 am (UTC-5)
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Japan is sending its ambassador back to South Korea, one week after recalling him in the wake of an intensifying island dispute between the two Asian neighbors.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said Wednesday the ambassador, Masatoshi Muto, will return to Seoul to help manage the dispute over the islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea.

Tokyo recalled the ambassador last week to protest South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's visit to the strategic islands, which are thought to be surrounded by energy deposits.

On Tuesday, South Korea dismissed a proposal by Japan to take the decades-old dispute to the International Court of Justice. Unless both sides agree, the ICJ cannot open a case on the matter.

The disagreement has also jeopardized talks between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and President Lee that were slated for next month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Forum.

Tomohiko Taniguchi, a former Japanese diplomat and a professor with Japan's Keio and Meiji universities, tells VOA it is likely the talks will not take place.

“Prime Minister Noda and his cabinet ministers have made it clear that, temporary at least, there is going to be a halt in meetings between high level officials of South Korea and Japan, so I would be very surprised if the sidelines discussion would take place.”

Tokyo is also reportedly considering whether to call off a soon-expiring currency swap deal with South Korea, as well as several other diplomatic or economic measures in response to Mr. Lee's visit to the islands.

But Taniguchi says any additional measures undertaken by Japan are likely to be minor and mostly symbolic because of the economic interdependence of the two countries, which boast strong trade ties.

The largely uninhabited islands have been under effective South Korean control since the end of Japanese colonial rule after World War Two.