Japan’s nonsensical move

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has perplexed us by ordering its officials not to use Korean Air for a month starting today. The reason for this ban was a demonstration flight the private airliner recently conducted with its newly introduced Airbus A380 over Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets.

One may wonder why the Japanese ministry instructed a boycott of the Korean carrier for test flying its newest passenger plane over part of Korea. The reason is that Japan regards Dokdo as its territory.

Japan’s territorial claim to the islets in the East Sea is nothing new. But the action it has taken lately to assert its sovereignty is something it has never done before. For the first time, the Japanese government has chosen to punish a private Korean company to back its claim to Dokdo.

Tokyo’s protest is totally nonsensical. It has many Koreans, probably many foreigners well-informed about this matter as well, wondering if the officials who ordered the boycott were in their right minds.

Tokyo’s latest move is a wrong-headed mistake that would do it no favors. The plan can neither be justified nor will have much impact on South Korea or Korean Air. If anything, it will only highlight the brazen stupidity of the Japanese government and fuel anti-Japan feelings among Koreans.

But Tokyo apparently cares little about the backlash. It appears even willing to sacrifice the recent improvement in its ties with Seoul, which was based on Korean people’s sympathy for victims of Japan’s triple disaster in March. What is behind its reckless move?

The Tokyo government is set to publish a new defense white paper that reiterates Japan’s territorial claim to Dokdo. The book is due out late this month or early August. The one-month boycott of Korean Air could provide a good backdrop for the publication of the important book. The boycott and the new white paper would help the ruling Democratic Party of Japan project an image that it is committed to protecting territorial sovereignty.

While Tokyo’s protest is pathetic and ludicrous, the Seoul government needs to respond to it resolutely. One measure reportedly under consideration by Seoul officials is a tit for tat response ― telling Korean officials to refrain from using Japan’s flag carriers. This is not strong enough.

The government needs to accelerate the construction of a marine research facility on Dokdo. More importantly, President Lee Myung-bak needs to visit Dokdo to demonstrate the islets are part of Korean territory. Last November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dealt a blow to Tokyo by visiting the islands disputed by Russia and Japan. Lee needs to do the same.

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