SEOUL, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) - A group of conservative Japanese lawmakers' attempt to visit an island near South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo could hamper diplomatic efforts to forge closer ties between the two Asian neighbors and further interfere with regional peace, a South Korean opposition lawmaker warned Monday.
Rep. Kang Chang-il of the Democratic Party (DP) made the remarks shortly after South Korean immigration officials banned the entry of three Japanese lawmakers from the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party who had planned to visit Ulleung Island in the East Sea, a trip seen as an attempt to reassert Tokyo's claim to the South Korean islets.
"If they only intend to tour Ulleung Island, I'm willing to guide them around the island. But if they come to South Korea with the purpose of claiming Dokdo's sovereignty through their visit, it is a violation of local law that defines Dokdo as (Korean) territory," Kang, who chairs a parliamentary committee on Dokdo, said in an interview with Yonhap News. "If they have a political purpose to make some noise through their trip, immigration authorities should not allow them to enter the country."
As a member of a Korean-Japanese lawmakers' association and who visited Japan 10 times last year alone for parliamentary activities, the 59-year-old Kang called their trip a "political stunt" that could sour a string of diplomatic efforts underway among political and private sectors lately. A year ago, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed "deep regret" for the suffering inflicted during his country's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula ahead of the 100th anniversary of the annexation of the Korean Peninsula.
"Their visit is bad not only for relations with Korea but also for peace in Northeast Asia," the former Asian history professor said. "Their move is not in accordance with the majority opinion. I think they're playing cheap politics to earn popularity in Japan ahead of next year's elections."
Noting how Koreans set aside hard feelings left over from Japan's harsh colonial rule and provided help for Japan after the devastating March earthquake and tsunami, Kang said some right-wing politicians' territorial claims are regrettable, particularly when South Korea is still grappling with flood and landslide damage from record breaking rainfalls last week.
"It is betrayal of friendship," said the politician, who is known for his wide personal network in Japan and has a doctoral degree from the University of Tokyo.
Rep. Kang Chang-il chairs a parliamentary committee on Dokdo protection, (Yonhap file photo)
The strong advocate for Dokdo urged the Lee Myung-bak administration to roll up "quiet diplomacy," saying it does not help reduce diplomatic conflicts but only weakens Korea's sovereignty of the island on the global stage.
"Quiet diplomacy doesn't work under the current circumstances as the Dokdo issue has already been on the international stage. The government should show a strong will to counter Japan's claim over our territory," Kang said.
As part of an active diplomatic strategy, Kang and two other DP lawmakers in May visited the disputed Kuril Islands in the West Pacific Ocean after Tokyo in March approved a set of new middle school textbooks referring to Dokdo as Japanese territory. The trip prompted protests from Tokyo.
"We visited the Kuril Islands with permission from the Russian government, so our trip was different from this case," the lawmaker said. "Interfering with Korean lawmakers' parliamentary activities could be an infringement of sovereignty."
In a show of strong support for Dokdo's sovereignty, Kang plans to hold a committee meeting on Dokdo to adopt a resolution that condemns Japan's sovereignty claim over the Korean territory, the first such meeting in South Korean history.
"The most important thing in diplomacy is to figure out the counterpart's real intentions and handle sensitive situations accordingly. It is time for the government to take a strong action to show its will," he added.
South Korea's easternmost island of Dokdo (Yonhap file photo)