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Sunday, August 25, 2019, 22:07
ROK expands army drill around disputed island, Japan protests
By Reuters
Sunday, August 25, 2019, 22:07 By Reuters

In this photo provided by the ROK's Navy, members of the ROK Navy's special forces rappel down from the UH-60 helicopter during the drill on the islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, Aug 25, 2019. (PHOTO / THE ROK'S NAVY VIA AP)

SEOUL — The Republic of Korea's (ROK) forces began two days of expanded drills on Sunday around an island also claimed by Japan, prompting a protest from Tokyo only days after Seoul said it would scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with its neighbour amid worsening relations. 

Relations between the ROK and Japan began to deteriorate late last year following a diplomatic row over compensation for wartime forced labourers during Japan's occupation of Korea

Tokyo and Seoul have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the group of islets called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean, which lie about halfway between the East Asian neighbours in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea. 

The latest military drills began on Sunday and included naval, air, and army forces, as well as marines, a ROK ministry of defence official said. 

ALSO READ: S. Korea reviewing military intel-sharing pact with Japan

The Japanese foreign ministry called the drills unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with ROK calling for them to end. 

The island is "obviously an inherent part of the territory of Japan", Kenji Kanasugi, the director general at the ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told the ROK Embassy in Tokyo in a statement. 

In this photo provided by the ROK's Navy, members of the ROK Navy's special forces participate during the drill on the islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, Aug 25, 2019. (PHOTO / THE ROK'S NAVY VIA AP)

Ko Min-jung, a spokeswoman for ROK's presidential Blue House, said the drill was an annual exercise and not aimed at any specific country. 

"It's an exercise to guard our sovereignty and territory," she told reporters in Seoul. 

The exercise included significantly more ROK forces than previously involved and spanned a wider area in the sea between ROK and Japan, a ROK navy official told Reuters. 

For the first time the drills included an Aegis-equipped destroyer and army special forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. 

The ROK announced the scrapping of an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan on Thursday, drawing a swift protest from Tokyo and deepening a decades-old dispute over wartime history that has hit trade and undercut security cooperation over the the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

In this photo provided by the ROK's Navy, the ROK Navy's Aegis destroyer, King Sejong the Great, sails during the drill near the islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, Aug 25, 2019. (PHOTO / THE ROK'S NAVY VIA AP)

Relations between the ROK and Japan began to deteriorate late last year following a diplomatic row over compensation for wartime forced labourers during Japan's occupation of Korea. 

They soured further when Japan tightened its curbs on exports of high-tech materials needed by ROK's chip industry, and again this month when Tokyo said it would remove the ROK's fast-track export status. 

The disputed islands have long been one of the most sensitive areas of contention between Japan and ROK. 

A detachment of ROK guards has been stationed there since the 1950s and ROK has conducted annual defence drills in the area. 

The current exercises had been delayed as relations deteriorated, Yonhap news agency reported. 

In this photo provided by the ROK's Navy, members of the ROK Navy's special forces participate during the drill on the islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, Aug 25, 2019. (PHOTO / THE ROK'S NAVY VIA AP)

In July, the ROK and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by a Russian military plane. 

READ MORE: Disputed islets: S. Korea slams territorial claims in Japan's textbooks

The ROK navy said the drills were designed to underscore its commitment to defending the broader area. 

"The military has changed the name of the drills to 'East Sea Territorial Protection Exercise' reflecting the scale and meaning of the drills to solidify the military's resolve to protect the territory in the East Sea," the ROK navy said in a statement. Previous drills had been called the "Dokdo Defence Exercise."

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