(ATTN: ADDS defense ministry's message in last 4 paras, photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon and Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- The foreign ministry called in a senior Japanese diplomat Tuesday to lodge a protest after Tokyo renewed its claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo in its latest defense white paper.
Kim Jung-han, director general for Asia and Pacific affairs at Seoul's foreign ministry, summoned Hirohisa Soma, a senior official from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to express regret over the annual report and urge Tokyo to withdraw the claims.
Soma entered the ministry building at about 11 a.m., without taking questions from reporters.
The defense white paper, approved by Japan's Cabinet earlier in the day, describes the issue of Dokdo as a matter that "remains unresolved," along with its long-standing territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands.
Regarding North Korea's nuclear threats, the policy report used stronger terms to explicitly state that Pyongyang is believed to be capable of attacking Tokyo with nuclear-tipped missiles.
The foreign ministry in Seoul urged Japan to immediately withdraw its claims to Dokdo.
"We strongly protest that Japan has repeatedly laid unjust territorial claims to Dokdo, which is clearly our inherent territory, historically, geographically and by international law, and we urge for an immediate retraction of the claims," ministry spokesperson Kim In-chul said in a commentary.
"Japan should realize that repeating its unjust and absurd claims to Dokdo does nothing to help the bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan. Our government makes it clear once again that the claims by the Japanese government cannot affect our sovereignty over Dokdo and that we will sternly act against any provocation on the islets," he said.
The defense ministry also called in Takashi Matsumoto, a Japanese military attache stationed in Seoul, and lodged a complaint over the territorial claim. The Japanese official did not answer reporters' questions about Japan's stance and bilateral relations, and entered the Joint Chiefs of Staff building inside the ministry compound where a reception room is located.
Tokyo has laid claims to Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan, every year in its diplomatic blue book and defense white paper since 2005, causing tensions with Seoul.
Japan's renewed claims to the islets come at a time when their bilateral ties remain badly frayed over compensating Korean forced labor victims and Tokyo's export curbs on Seoul.
South Korea rejects the claims because the country regained independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, including Dokdo and many other islands around the Korean Peninsula.
Since 1954, South Korea has stationed a small police detachment on Dokdo.
Seoul's defense ministry also expressed deep regret that the Japanese defense paper repeated "groundless, unilateral claims" that a South Korean warship locked fire-control radar on its maritime patrol aircraft in December 2018.
South Korea has flatly rejected the claims, saying that the warship never used any tracking radar as it was on a mission to rescue a North Korean fishing boat drifting in the East Sea.
The incident, in which the Japanese patrol plane also conducted menacing low-altitude flybys over South Korean vessels, sent the bilateral military relationship plunging to one of its lowest ebbs ever.
The ministry also said it "sternly urged Japan to make serious efforts to restore confidence between the two countries" while stressing that Seoul's decision to suspend the termination of the intelligence sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was aimed at proactively resolving tensions.
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