South Korea to hold exercise on disputed islands
September 5, 2012
SEOUL — Amid rising tensions with Japan, South Korea will hold an exercise this weekend aimed at protecting a bitterly contested island territory from invasion — by both foreign militaries and protesters.
The exercise, to be held at the Dokdo islets Friday through Monday, has been scaled down and will include fewer than 1,000 troops, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, though both he and other military officials declined to confirm the exact number of participants.
A key aim is training South Korean maritime police to respond to a possible invasion of the two rocky islands by Japanese demonstrators, another JCS spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said South Korea believes a military response to a civilian landing would send the message that Dokdo is a “troubled area” and could further Japanese efforts to take the case before an international court.
Both Japan and South Korea claim the islands, where South Korea maintains a police presence. Recent South Korean media stories have speculated on how a war between the two countries over the islands would play out, and how to repel a civilian invasion there.
The JCS said the Army, Navy, Air Force and police will rehearse a scenario in which they turn away foreign vessels. It refused to comment when asked if Japanese activists were really expected to invade Dokdo.
Several military officials downplayed any specific country being the target of the drills, saying they were meant to deter any possible enemies.
The dispute is so divisive that the two countries won’t even agree on the name of the islands or the body of water where they’re located. In South Korea, they’re known as the Dokdo islands in the East Sea; in Japan, they’re called Takeshima in the Sea of Japan.
U.S. troops will not participate in the exercise, according to U.S. Forces Korea. USFK did not answer questions about whether it had encouraged the South to halt or scale back the exercise, though the JCS said USFK had not communicated with Seoul about the drill.
Japanese foreign ministry officials declined to comment Wednesday on the exercise, but said Senior Vice Minister Ryuji Yamane told reporters Monday that Tokyo had asked Seoul not to conduct it.
South Korean Marines were originally scheduled to conduct landing maneuvers on the islands, but that portion of the exercise was canceled last week because of ongoing friction with Japan following South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s Aug. 10 visit to the island.
Lee’s visit, the first by a South Korean president, has led to increased diplomatic tension between the two countries. The JCS said this week that the landing drill had been canceled because Lee’s visit sufficiently demonstrated the nation’s resolve to protect Dokdo from foreign invasion.
Baek Seung Joo, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, said South Koreans are outraged by Japan’s repeated claims to ownership of the islands.
“We feel so much pain because Dokdo is part of South Korea,” he said.
Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.