South Korea to conduct military drill near contested Chinese islands

China claims most of the Sounth China Sea as do many other governments. However, China has been working to dredge the bottom of the sea and fill in reefs with sand to build up islands and islets to stake a bigger claim on the waters. Image credit USC.edu

South Korea is set to go ahead with a military drill in waters around a set of disputed islets that Japan also claims for itself, according to an unnamed official Wednesday.

The exercise is expected to take place next week — just days after this past Monday’s breakthrough talks involving South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2015, file photo, Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., U.S. Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command walks past a photograph showing an island that China is building on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, as the prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on maritime security strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. Navy's challenge to China's sovereignty claims in the South China Sea was not designed as a military threat, Harris said Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in a mostly upbeat speech about prospects for preventing U.S.-China disputes from escalating to conflict. Speaking in the Chinese capital, Harris cited a recent statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the international order "faces challenges from Russia and, in a different way, from China, with its ambiguous maritime claims," including Beijing's claim to nearly all of the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2015, file photo, Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., U.S. Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command walks past a photograph showing an island that China is building on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, as the prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on maritime security strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. Navy’s challenge to China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea was not designed as a military threat, Harris said Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in a mostly upbeat speech about prospects for preventing U.S.-China disputes from escalating to conflict. Speaking in the Chinese capital, Harris cited a recent statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the international order “faces challenges from Russia and, in a different way, from China, with its ambiguous maritime claims,” including Beijing’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

“The exact date of the drill could be adjusted depending on weather conditions,” the official was quoted as saying by local news agency Yonhap.

While South Korea already effectively controls the territory in question with a small residential and police presence, Japan insists that it is the rightful owner of the same islets.

Known in Korean as Dokdo, the rocky outcrops lie closer to South Korea than Japan and have become a symbol of national pride, especially against the historical background of Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

China claims most of the Sounth China Sea as do many other governments. However, China has been working to dredge the bottom of the sea and fill in reefs with sand to build up islands and islets to stake a bigger claim on the waters. Image credit USC.edu
China claims most of the Sounth China Sea as do many other governments. However, China has been working to dredge the bottom of the sea and fill in reefs with sand to build up islands and islets to stake a bigger claim on the waters. Image credit: china.usc.edu

Next week’s drill has been a regular feature for nearly 30 years, and will focus on protecting the islets from any further foreign occupation.

“It has nothing to do with any political situations, including South Korea-Japan relations. It’s aimed purely at military purposes,” the official insisted.

Park’s meeting with Abe this week was significant because she had previously refused to meet the Japanese leader since her inauguration in early 2013 — her predecessor Lee Myung-bak set the tone towards the end of his presidency with a dramatic Dokdo visit.

Tensions between the two sides have largely focused on Tokyo’s attitude towards its colonial era abuses, including its refusal to directly compensate now-elderly victims of sexual slavery.

Japan has long maintained that all matters related to its colonization of Korea were settled under a 1965 treaty with Seoul.

Meanwhile, a South Korean prime ministry-affiliated commission pressed Tokyo on Wednesday to repatriate the remains of South Korean forced laborers — more than 2,700 corpses have been discovered during a 10-year joint investigation.

The commission publicly accused the Japanese government of being “passive” in handling the matter.

By Alex Jensen Source: AA

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