TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – A war of words over ownership of a group of tiny islands in the sea between Japan and South Korea spilled over to the Olympics on Wednesday as Tokyo criticised Seoul’s complaint over a map of Japan on the Tokyo Games website.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have often been fraught over their shared history, stemming from Japan’s often brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945, and over the disputed islands known as “Dokdo” in Korea and “Takeshima” in Japan.
The neighbours are also at loggerheads over Japan’s export curbs on high-tech materials bound for South Korea, as well as the issue of compensation of South Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during World War Two.
“We have ascertained that the torch relay map and other related materials in the official website of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics mark the position of Dokdo with a small dot coloured as Japanese territory, and marks the East Sea only as the Sea of Japan,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Our government immediately summoned the relevant official at the Japanese embassy in South Korea to protest Japan’s improper assertion of its right of administration over Dokdo, while demanding that the related materials be immediately corrected.”
Japan’s top government spokesman dismissed South Korea’s protest.
“We communicated (to South Korea) that their position is absolutely unacceptable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference, adding that the state of relations was “very severe”.
The two nations had a similar altercation at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year. Japan protested at the inclusion of the islands on a flag depicting a unified Korean peninsula.
Athletes from North and South Korea marched together under the flag of white and pale blue at the opening ceremony.
The islands were at the centre of a more serious clash on Tuesday, when both South Korea and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by Russian and Chinese military planes.
Seoul, which controls the islands, fired hundreds of warning shots, and both countries scrambled jets to intercept the Russo-Chinese mission.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko in TOKYO, Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Clarence Fernandez)