(ATTN: UPDATES with return of Japanese ambassador, a provocative act claimed by Japanese activist in paras 9-20)
SEOUL/TOKYO, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to step up a public relations drive worldwide for its easternmost islets of Dokdo to help counter Japan's territorial claim to the volcanic outcroppings in a sea between the two nations, an official said Wednesday.
The plan comes on the heels of diplomatic tension as South Korea rejected a formal proposal on Tuesday by Japan to take the issue of Dokdo to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), dismissing the proposal as being "not worth consideration."
Although Japan cannot go to the ICJ unless it secures South Korea's consent, Seoul officials said Tokyo's aim was to make Dokdo as a disputed territory by drawing attention to the issue. Two previous proposals by Japan in 1954 and 1962 were also instantly rejected.
"We will let the international community learn more about the issue of Dokdo in the future," a senior official at Seoul's foreign ministry said on the condition of anonymity.
Among other potential measures, the ministry plans to make efforts to teach international law and history scholars more about Dokdo and distribute promotional brochures on Dokdo in English and Japanese languages "in an effort to promote correct public recognition and raise awareness on the unjustness of Japan's territorial claims over Dokdo," the official said.
Since early this year, the ministry has apparently reversed its policy of "quiet diplomacy" concerning Dokdo.
In March, the ministry launched a Web site on Dokdo, which provides comprehensive information on South Korea's stance on Dokdo in 10 languages as well as geographical, historical and international legal grounds for Seoul's sovereignty and the unjustness of Tokyo's territorial claims.
Japan recalled its ambassador to South Korea, Masatoshi Muto, a day after President Lee Myung-bak made an unprecedented visit to Dokdo on Aug. 10.
On Wednesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba upped his government's diplomatic offensive against Seoul by describing South Korea's control of the islets as an "illegal occupation."
"We are in a situation where we cannot exercise part of our jurisdiction because of South Korea," Gemba told a parliamentary session. "We can say this situation constitutes an illegal occupation."
It is the first time a foreign minister under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which came to power in 2009, has used the expression "illegal occupation" in public, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
But in a sign of keeping the diplomatic tension from further escalating, Tokyo sent Muto back to Seoul 12 days after he was recalled.
"I'm back since the foreign minister instructed me to communicate well with South Korea," Muto told reporters upon arriving at Gimpo Airport in Seoul.
Stressing that there have been so many moments of crisis in relations between the two countries, the ambassador said he will faithfully do his job "without fluctuating between hopes and fears."
He, however, refused to comment when asked to give details of instructions from Gemba, saying "I'm not yet at the stage of commenting on that."
In a related move, police said three provocative wooden posts with a leaflet carrying Japan's claim to Dokdo were found at entrances to two history-related establishments in Seoul.
A right-wing Japanese activist who angered Koreans with a similar provocative act in June claimed that he was responsible.
The activist, known as Nobuyuki Suzuki, made the claim in a posting to his blog which included photos of the wooden posts and the leaflet attached at the front and rear entrances of the War and the Women's Human Rights Museum for displaying materials and documents on victims of Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II and the entrance to the state-run Northeast Asian History Foundation.
The history foundation has a research institute on Dokdo under its wing.
Suzuki was sued by a group of sexual slavery victims after tying a wooden post with the phrase "Dokdo is Japanese territory," to the statue symbolizing the victims in front of the Japanese embassy in downtown Seoul.
Dokdo, which lies closer to South Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, has long been a thorn in bilateral relations. South Korea keeps a small police detachment on the islets, effectively controlling them.
Japan has long laid claims to Dokdo in school textbooks, government reports and other ways, stoking enmity in South Korea against its former colonial ruler.
South Koreans see those claims as amounting to denying Korea's rights because the country regained independence from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule and reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, which includes Dokdo and many other islands around the Korean Peninsula.
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