South Korea holds war games near disputed islands – media

The move comes amid diplomatic tensions with Japan over ownership of the Dokdo, or Takeshima, islands

South Korea has conducted military drills near islands at the center of a territorial dispute with Japan, the news agency Yonhap reported on Friday, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

The drills came after Japan reiterated its claims to the Dokdo islands, which it calls Takeshima, in its annual defense policy paper released earlier this month. 

Seoul has protested Tokyo’s renewed attempts to claim ownership of the islands and has stated that such moves do not help efforts to build “future-oriented” relations between the two nations.

“{The government} strongly protests against Japan’s repetition of its sovereignty claim over Dokdo, clearly an integral part of the Korean territory in terms of history, geography and international law, and urges it to immediately scrap it,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said in a statement last week.

Known as Liancourt Rocks internationally, Dokdo in South Korea, and Takeshima in Japan, the islands are located in the western part of the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, as referred to by some countries. Japan officially controlled the islands from 1910 to 1945 during its colonial reign over Korea. However, after World War II they fell back under the de facto control of South Korea, which to this day has a small police force stationed there. 

Sources told Yonhap that Friday’s drills were aimed at ensuring the country’s military readiness to fend off potential foreign incursions on the rocky outcrops. “Dokdo is our territory, and these drills are part of regular ones that we conduct every year,” one official was quoted as saying on the condition of anonymity.

South Korea has been holding military drills near the islands since 1986 and has conducted them twice annually since 2003. The first drill of the year is usually in June, although this year it was apparently pushed back as the US, South Korea and Japan seek to deepen their security ties amid rising tensions with North Korea, according to Yonhap. In June, the three states agreed to resume joint military exercises, which were last held in late 2017.

Earlier this month, the US and South Korea carried out their first joint exercises involving fifth-generation stealth jet fighters. The exercise took place after Seoul accused Pyongyang of conducting test missile launches, breaking a self-imposed 2018 moratorium. In June, South Korean authorities warned that they would react “promptly and sternly” against any “provocations” coming from the North.

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