Japan has recalled its ambassador to South Korea after a decision by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to visit a group of islets claimed by both countries. President Lee is the first South Korean leader to land on the islands, which have long been an irritant in bilateral ties.
A surprise visit by South Korean President President Lee Myung-bak to the disputed islets, despite Tokyo’s warnings that it will worsen already strained ties. In response, Japan has recalled its ambassador to Seoul.
Koichiro Gemba, Japanese Foreign Minister, said, "We’re temporarily recalling Ambassador Mutoh from the Japanese embassy in South Korea, in protest at the move. We’ve informed the South Korean ambassador in Tokyo that we have no choice but to take appropriate measures."
The disputed islets are known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. South Korea has stationed a small contingent of police officers on the islets. Japan maintains that the rocks are its territory, renewing the claim last month in an annual defense report. Japan says President Lee’s action is unacceptable.
Koichiro Gemba, Japanese Foreign Minister, said, "Historically and under international law, the Takeshima islets are Japanese territory. President Lee’s visit conflicts with our position and we strongly oppose it."
Lee, whose popularity has waned, is in the last year of his five-year presidency and cannot run for re-election.
The visit makes Lee the first South Korean leader to travel to the rocky, largely uninhabited outcrop of islets in the fish-rich waters, believed to contain frozen natural gas deposits potentially worth billions of dollars.
Last year, Seoul banned three conservative Japanese lawmakers from entering South Korea after they announced plans to travel near the islets.