North Koreans voice claim over Tok Islands

June 11, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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SEOUL, June 10 (UPI) -- Korean emigre groups in Russia have denounced Japan's claim to the Tok Islets in the Sea of Japan and off the South Korean coast.

Japan is becoming more desperate to seize the Tok Islets, a statement from the pro-North Korean United Confederation of Koreans in Russia along with the All-Russia Federation of Koreans and other Korean organizations said.

Their comments came in a meeting in Moscow along with "experts" of the Russian Institute of History, the Institute of the Far East and the Institute of Oriental Studies, a report by North Korea's state-run news agency Korean Central News Agency said.

Speakers asserted the Tok Islets, called Takeshima Islands by the Japanese, always have been "inalienable territory of Korea," the KCNA report said.

"There is no ground for Japan to insist that they belong to Japan," the statement said, noting that in a children's school textbook Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science has them as Japanese territory.

Tok Islets are around 116 miles from mainland South Korea and 114 miles from the main Japanese island of Honshu. Japan has incorporated the territory into the prefecture of Shimane on Honshu.

The territory -- also known as Liancourt Rocks -- consists of two main islands, Dongdo and Seodo and up to 35 surrounding rocky outcrops. Dongdo and Seodo together amount only to around 40 acres of land.

Japan's official claim to the islands is laid out in a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It puts forward an historical ownership thesis as was well making reference to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

In the treaty, Japan recognized the independence of Korea, renouncing any claims to territories, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet. Japan claims that by omission, the Tok Islets remain Japanese, the ministry document says.

In spite of Japan's claim to the islands, South Korea operates a manned lighthouse on Dongdo.

While ownership of the Tok Islets remains a low-level diplomatic issue for Seoul and Tokyo, disputes among other countries in the neighboring South China Sea sometimes boil over into standoffs or clashes between rival navies and sometimes fishing boats.

Many of the territorial disputes involve Chinese claims to sovereignty of islands many of which are closer to the mainland of other countries that border the South China Sea.

Last week the Philippines government said it was investigating the latest claims that Chinese fishermen have started fishing again in Scarborough shoal.

The shoal is more than 400 miles off the Chinese coast but 150 miles off the coast of Zambales, a province on the western shore of Luzon Island, the largest and most northern Philippines island.

China's claim to the islands rests on interpretations of several treaties beginning with the Treaty of Paris 1898, which Beijing claims never specifically mentioned Scarborough Shoal as Philippines territory.

Philippines presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there is a continuing dialogue between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Manila, a report by the Philippines media business ABS-CBN said.

"That is something that they will be discussing with them," Lacierda said.

"The Chinese Foreign Ministry mentioned that there is a fishing ban. Maybe that's part of the consultations and dialogue with the Chinese counterparts as to the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in spite of the fishing ban imposed by the Chinese government," he said.

Also disputed by China and the Philippines are the Spratly Islands and reefs -- some only visible at low tide -- lying off the southwest coast of the Philippines.

Ownership of the Spratly Islands also is disputed by Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.

The Spratly dispute has erupted into open military confrontation on occasions, such as the brief 1988 Johnson South Reef skirmish between China and Vietnam in which about 70 Vietnamese military personnel were killed.

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