South Korea protests Japan's claim to islets

AP News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2011 6:35 AM
South Korea protests Japan's claim to islets

South Korea summoned Japan's ambassador on Wednesday to protest Tokyo's renewed claims to a group of disputed islets _ a spat that could sour a rare outpouring of sympathy toward Seoul's former colonial ruler following a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Japan approved middle school textbooks that make unfounded claims to the islets, which have long been at the center of disputes between the Asian neighbors. They are effectively controlled by South Korea but are claimed by Japan.

"We express our deep disappointment and regret over the history textbooks ... that justify and beautify (Japan's) wrong view of history," South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters.

Cho urged Japan to fundamentally change its stance on the islets and said officials are discussing how to respond to the Japanese move. Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan later summoned the Japanese ambassador, protesting the textbook approval and calling for its immediate retraction, according to his office.

Cho said Seoul hopes the textbook dispute won't affect what he called South Koreans' "pure and beautiful" support for Japanese quake and tsunami victims.

Seoul officials say they will separate the textbook issue from humanitarian aid to Japan, but the rekindled islet dispute threatened to hurt warming ties between the countries.

In Tokyo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Satoru Sato said Japan's stance on the islets "remains consistent" and called for calm.

"We should all make efforts so as not to strain Japan-South Korean relations," Sato said.

A dozen activists rallied near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday, chanting anti-Tokyo slogans and calling on South Koreans to stop sending donations to Japan.

"We made warmhearted donations, and all we got in return is a distortion of history," lead activist Choi Jae-ik shouted during the rally. "We deplore Japan's ungrateful behavior."

Several elderly women _ forced to work as wartime prostitutes for Japanese troops decades ago _ and their supporters staged another rally in front of the embassy later Wednesday, tearing up mock Japanese textbooks.

A passer-by watching the rally, Byeon Seok-dong, 76, said: "It hurts our feelings when the Japanese claim that our territory is theirs. ... Our willingness to help them out was washed away when we heard this claim from Japan."

South Korea's Red Cross said it has collected 23 billion won ($20.9 million) in donations for Japan _ a record amount for a foreign country hit by natural disasters. The government is sending more than 500 tons of bottled water, 6,000 blankets and other aid items to Japan.

Japan colonized the Korean peninsula in 1910-45, and many older Koreans still harbor deep resentment against Tokyo over the colonial rule. Despite their troubled history, Seoul and Tokyo remain closely tied economically and are key U.S. security allies in the region.

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Associated Press writers Haeran Hyun in Seoul and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.