(Adds ambassador's comments)
By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL, July 15 South Korea's coastguard said on
Tuesday it had stepped up patrols near islands at the centre of
a territorial dispute with Japan, a day after Seoul recalled
its ambassador in anger at new Japanese claims to the rocky
The fight over the desolate islands, known as Dokdo in
Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, has been a persistent
irritant in relations between the neighbours, rekindling
memories in South Korea of Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule over
"We're beefing up security measures in relation to Japan's
decision to describe Dokdo as its territory in its textbooks,"
a coastguard official said.
On Monday, Tokyo said it had told Seoul it would refer in a
middle school teaching guide to the islands as Japanese
territory, triggering angry rallies outside Japan's embassy in
Seoul and official protests from South Korea's government.
School textbooks, seen as an expression of government views
in many Asian countries, sometimes lead to international spats.
In 2005, thousands of Chinese took to the streets to protest
what they said was Japan's whitewashing of its World War Two
history in schoolbooks.
The disputed islands are controlled by South Korea, which
keeps a police presence there, and lie roughly equidistant from
the mainland of both countries.
South Korea's coastguard said in a separate statement on
Tuesday that it had strengthened its early warning system, "as
a preventive measure against any possible attempt by Japanese
right-wing elements sailing to Dokdo."
The waters surrounding the islands are rich in marine life
and popular with squid fishermen while the seabed in the area
may have deposits of a natural gas hydrate that could be worth
billions of dollars.
Japanese government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura on Tuesday
called for a calm response to overcome differences.
"Right now Japan and South Korea have entered a new age,
and efforts should be made not to interrupt this," he said.
Before returning to Seoul, South Korea's ambassador Kwon
Chul-hyun, visited Japan's foreign ministry on Tuesday to lodge
a protest, his embassy said in a statement.
Kwon said South Koreans may have a hard time welcoming
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda for a trip planned in a
few months to the country, adding Japan had more to lose than
gain due to the island fight, the statement said.
The dispute is one of a number of long-running territorial
rows involving Japan and its neighbours.
Last month, a row over ownership of another group of tiny
islands called the Senkaku isles in Japan, the Diaoyu in China
and the Tiaoyutai in Taiwan, flared up when a Japanese
coastguard vessel collided with a Taiwan fishing boat, sinking
it and injuring one person.
NO BENEFIT TO LEE
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in
February, pledged to better ties with major trading partner
Japan after his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun tried to score points
at home by fanning the flames of lingering anti-Japan
Analysts said this recent development may add to prevailing
unhappiness about the Lee regime.
The public is likely to see his call to get closer to Tokyo
as just one more policy blunder for his new government, which
has seen its support rate fall after bungling a U.S. beef deal
and personnel appointments, Kang said.
"People tend to regard the Dokdo case as his diplomatic
mistake or failure. Even though people are united against
Japan, it is not likely to boost his popularity," said Kang
Won-taek, a political science professor at Soongsil University
(With additional reporting by Kim Junghyun in Seoul and Elaine
Lies in Tokyo)
(For related factbox see [ID:nT137120])
(Editing by Valerie Lee)