Japan says mention of disputed islands on Korean Olympics site 'unacceptable'

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday objected to mention on the Pyeongchang Olympics website of islands disputed by his country and South Korea, saying it was “unacceptable” and went against the spirit of the international competition.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida attends a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tokyo, Japan, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon - RTSV1FD

Ties between Japan and South Korea, host of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, have often been fraught over history, especially Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula.

Both claim the disputed islands - known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean - which are about 200 km east of South Korea in the Sea of Japan, and a little further than that from the southwest coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu.

In an explanation of national culture, the Pyeongchang website refers to Dokdo and “the East Sea,” the Korean name for the Sea of Japan.

“Dokdo holds a special place in the hearts of Koreans as they hold pride in defending Korea’s easternmost reached territory,” the website says.

Kishida told reporters on Friday the references violated the Olympic charter’s opposition to using sports for political purposes and the goal of establishing mutual understanding.

“The contents of the Olympic and Paralympic organizers’ website are unacceptable when compared with our country’s views on territorial rights to Takeshima and the name of the Sea of Japan,” he said.

He said Japan had conveyed its thinking on the matter to the South Korean government and called on Seoul to make an appropriate response.

South Korea sees Japan’s claims to the islands as stemming from its colonization of the Korean peninsula in the first half of last century. Ties between the neighbors have long been marred by what South Korea says is Japanese leaders’ reluctance to atone for its World War Two history.

Japan temporarily recalled its ambassador to South Korea on Jan. 6 over a statue commemorating Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two. Tokyo said there was nothing wrong with erecting a statue in memory of the women, but that it was inappropriate to place it outside of a Japanese consulate.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday the ambassador’s return was being held off while the government waited to see South Korea’s response.

Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kwiyeon Ha; Editing by Tom Hogue