The Dokdo, or Takeshima islands are rich in fish and maybe gas, but lie in disputed waters almost slap-dash in the middle between South Korea and Japan.
It is a long-simmering dispute. South Korea insists the Dokdo are theirs, and now the head of state has made an unprecedented visit, and ambassadors have been recalled.
“If it’s true, that would run counter to Japan’s stance on Takeshima and it would be extremely regrettable. We strongly urge South Korea to call off this visit. We are now already strongly asking South Korea to call off the visit,” said Japanese cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura on hearing the news.
In Seoul, just hours before their national football side plays Japan in the Olympic final, some people feel like they are one-nil up already.
“It’s our territory. So it’s quite natural that our president visits there. If other countries say anything against it, it should be an infringement of sovereignty,” said one man.
“It’s natural that President Lee Myung-bak visits the islands and he’s doing the right thing,” agreed another man. “However, from the diplomatic point of view, Japan might take actions against us economically or there might be diplomatic problems,” he added.
South Korea controls the islands with a coastguard station. The visit also comes shortly before the anniversary of the end of Japanese colonial rule.