Japanese and South Korean negotiators raced Thursday to avert a clash over disputed islets as Seoul accused Tokyo of imperialistic ambitions and warned of a possible confrontation at sea.One of my principal concerns right now is that Japan and the United States, while growing closer and closer to one another, are becoming more and more isolated in Asia. Japan's having enough trouble with China... the enmity of South Korea, or even significant tensions, would be absolutely disastrous.
Behind-the-scenes talks on a diplomatic solution came as tensions mounted over a Japanese plan to survey resource-rich waters near the islands, which are occupied by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
Some 20 South Korean gunboats have been dispatched to the area in anticipation of the arrival of Japanese survey ships. The gunboats were scheduled to conduct high seas seizure drills Thursday, but delayed the exercises due to bad weather.
In Seoul, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese embassy for talks, while warning of the possibility of a clash. Japan held the "key" to preventing conflict, ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said.
President Roh Moo-hyun accused Tokyo of harboring imperialistic ambitions. Many South Koreans say the basis of Japan's claim is its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
"There are some people claiming territorial rights to former colonies that were once acquired through a war of aggression," Roh said in a speech at a breakfast prayer meeting of Christian leaders in Seoul.
"We are now in a difficult situation," he said. "Problems cannot be solved just by goodwill."
(The major regional player that Japan seems to be getting along with is, uh, Taiwan. Yeah, that doesn't help things much, either.)