Japanese Lawmakers Not Allowed to Visit South Korea

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    Several weeks ago, a group of nationalist Japanese lawmakers announced that they would be visiting South Korea for a fact-finding mission about the territorial dispute over the Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima / Dokdo). They did not plan to visit the rocks, but they did hope to visit the Dokdo Museum on Ulleungdo island, which has exhibits that educate visitors about South Korea’s territorial claim to the rocks.

    Because the lawmakers were known for their support of Japan’s territorial claim, a lot of South Koreans didn’t think they should be allowed to visit the country or the museum. News of the lawmakers’ plans caused an eruption of anti-Japanese nationalism.

    South Korean President Lee Myung-bak even got in on the act, by making veiled threats about how his government wouldn’t be able to protect the lawmakers:

    Lee, at a cabinet meeting Tuesday, ordered officials to advise Tokyo that Seoul “cannot guarantee the lawmakers’ safety” and to urge them to cancel the visit, a presidential spokesman said.

    And Korea’s Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae-oh made the following announcement on Twitter:

    Korea’s Special Affairs Minister Lee Jae-oh had condemned the plan to visit Ulleung-do, saying via Twitter: “If their visit is intended to back up their country’s groundless territorial claim on Dokdo, it amounts to the encroachment of Korea’s sovereignty. I will block their landing on the island by all means.”

    Despite the threats of physical violence and statements warning that they would be banned entry to Korea, three LDP lawmakers (Yoshitaka Shindo, Tomomi Inada and Masahisa Sato) went ahead with the plan:

    Speaking to reporters before their departure, Shindo said, “If we don’t go, it would mean we have bowed to intimidation. A question will arise about the friendly relationship between Japan and South Korea if South Korea refuses our entry.”

    In this clip from Asahi TV, Yoshitaka Shindo unequivocally states that his group had no intention of engaging in any activism during their trip:

    “We are not going there to wave around Japanese flags or carry out any activities to promote our territorial right to Takeshima,” he said. (一切、あちらで日の丸を振り回したり、我々の竹島の領有権の主張運動をするわけではない)

    Waiting at Gimpo airport was an ultra-nationalist welcoming committee who were displaying anything but feelings of friendship towards Japan:

    Hundreds of activists protested at Gimpo, waving banners asserting South Korea’s ownership of the islands and burning photos of the lawmakers.

    Some banners read “Stop Japan!” or “You die!” Other protesters carried a coffin plastered with photos of the lawmakers, amid tight security.

    According to the AP, the protesters were also throwing curry powder, salt, and pepper at an empty arrival gate.

    The lawmakers did not see the protest banners or taste the salt, however, because South Korean authorities refused to allow them into the country. The refusal is apparently on the basis of a South Korean law prohibiting entry of foreigners “who could harm South Korea’s national interest” and foreigners who pose a “threat to public order.” A Japanese university professor who specializes in the study of the territorial dispute was also rejected for the same reason.

    South Korean authorities hoped that the lawmakers would quietly accept the decision and get right back on a plane to Japan. However, Shindo and the other lawmakers stayed for hours at Gimpo Airport, demanding that South Korean authorities explain the rejection.

    “There is no change in our policy to send them back home as we are following official orders,” said an immigration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”In light of our two countries’ relations, we are doing our best to convince them to return voluntarily.” Speaking to reporters at the airport, Shindo reiterated Tokyo’s claim that Dokdo belongs to Japan.”However, we must discuss this issue as there is a difference in opinion between Japan and South Korea,” he said.”If our entry is denied, we will visit once again,” he added, warning that the entry ban may evolve into a diplomatic row between the nations.”We’re not terrorists. I don’t understand on what basis they are claiming that we are a threat to South Korea’s safety. They should first hear the purpose of our trip.”

    If they don’t give up, they’ll probably be physically forced back onto a plane.

    It seems doubtful that the lawmakers would have been able to accomplish anything if they had actually been able to visit the museum. The best they could have done was make a few bland statements criticizing the exhibits of “evidence” supporting South Korea’s territorial claim. The visit probably wouldn’t have even deemed newsworthy enough for television network news broadcasts.

    By reacting with so much nationalistic drama and refusing to allow them entry to country, South Korea probably provided the exact kind of response that the Japanese lawmakers were hoping for…

    Interesting Fact: Yoshitaka Shindo is the grandson of Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the General who commanded the Japanese garrison defending Iwo Jima in 1945. Ken Watanbe played the role of Kuribayashi is Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima.”

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