- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

SEOUL — South Korean protesters are so angry at Japan these days that some are cutting off their fingers in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to make a point.

South Korea scrambled F-5 fighters to chase away a Japanese television crew flying a single plane over a 400-mile-wide stretch of open sea that separates the two nations.

In addition, South Korea’s National Security Council met yesterday as if it were preparing for war against Japan, with Chung Dong-young, a Cabinet minister, appearing on national television afterward to read a statement:

“The recent series of actions by Japan makes us wonder whether Japan has an intention to coexist with its neighbors as a peaceful force in Northeast Asia,” Mr. Chung said.

A somewhat befuddled Japan has responded by urging South Korea to inject a bit of perspective into the dispute.

At stake are two tiny volcanic rock outcroppings about midway between the two nations, but slightly closer to South Korea.

“We should deal with the situation in a forward-looking manner by considering how to develop friendship and overcoming emotional conflicts,” Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

“There are issues of history [to deal with], but we should not be mired in the past.”

The dispute centers on two tiny islands — known as Tokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

The dispute erupted last month at what should have been a sleepy foreign press event in Seoul, hosted by Japanese Ambassador Toshiyuki Takano to mark a yearlong friendship festival between the two historical enemies.

Prompted by a reporter’s question, Mr. Takano said the islands are “historically and legally Japan’s territory” — a position long maintained by Tokyo.

Economically, the islands — with a total area of 43 acres — are somewhat valuable because of fishing rights under international law in the waters around them.

South Korea backs its claim by stationing policemen on the islands, maintaining a presence that goes back to 1950.

One Korean man lived on one of the islands for about a decade, but there are no permanent civilian residents.

Emotionally, the islands mean much more to North and South Korea — with both still nursing psychological wounds from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula — than they do to Japan.

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