Expanded South Korean military drills around disputed island draw Japanese protest

In a development that could possibly further complicate ties between Seoul and Tokyo, South Korea’s navy on Sunday began two-day exercises on and around a group of islets controlled by South Korea but also claimed by Japan. (South Korea’s Navy via AP)
Updated 25 August 2019
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Expanded South Korean military drills around disputed island draw Japanese protest

  • Tokyo and Seoul have long been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the group of islets
  • The Japanese foreign ministry called the drills unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with South Korea

SEOUL: South Korean 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 neighbor amid worsening relations.
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 neighbors 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 South Korean ministry of defense official said.
The Japanese foreign ministry called the drills unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with South Korea 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 South Korean Embassy in Tokyo in a statement.
Ko Min-jung, a spokeswoman for South Korea’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 South Korean forces than previously involved and spanned a wider area in the sea between South Korea and Japan, a South Korean 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.
Tensions in the region have spiked amid a worsening political and economic spat between South Korea and Japan, a string of missile launches by North Korea, and increasingly assertive military patrols by China and Russia.
South Korea 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 North Korea.
Relations between South Korea and Japan began to deteriorate late last year following a diplomatic row over compensation for wartime forced laborers during Japan’s occupation of Korea.
They soured further when Japan tightened its curbs on exports of high-tech materials needed by South Korea’s chip industry, and again this month when Tokyo said it would remove South Korea’s fast-track export status.
The disputed islands have long been one of the most sensitive areas of contention between Japan and South Korea.
A detachment of South Korean guards has been stationed there since the 1950s and South Korea has conducted annual defense drills in the area.
The current exercises had been delayed as relations deteriorated, Yonhap news agency reported.
In July, South Korea and Japan responded to what they saw as a violation of their air space near the islands by a Russian military plane.
The South Korean 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 South Korean navy said in a statement. Previous drills had been called the “Dokdo Defense Exercise.”


Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

Updated 23 min 15 sec ago

Poor air quality: Malaysia tells citizens to stay indoors

  • Nearly 1,500 schools closed as haze continues to plague the country

KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia’s haze problem worsened on Wednesday, some areas of the country recorded readings above 200 on the Air Pollution Index (API), which officials told Arab News is considered “very unhealthy.”

More than a million primary and high-school students stayed home as 1,484 schools remained closed in seven states, including Selangor and Sarawak — the two worst-affected states. 

In some areas of Sarawak, API readings were above 300, which is considered hazardous to the environment and human health. 

The Ministry of Education advised all higher education institutions in the haze-affected states to postpone their classes, while some companies and institutions, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, asked employees to work from home.

Responding to the worsening situation, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhamad stressed that Malaysia must deal with the haze issue on its own.

“We will have to find ways to deal with the haze, through cloud seeding, asking people to stay at home, and school closures,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya. 

The Malaysia government also stressed that it will take legal action against Malaysian companies that own estates and plantations outside Malaysia which have contributed to the problem. 

“We will ask them to put out the fires (they have set). If they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law that holds them responsible,” the 93-year-old Malaysian leader said.

The ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Centre reported that forest fires in Indonesia’s Sumatera and Kalimantan regions have intensified, leading to an increase in the haze across the Southeast Asian region. Those fires, coupled with the dry weather conditions in certain areas, mean the air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate. The general public have been advised to stay indoors and to wear facemasks if they do have to go outside.

Benjamin Ong, a Kuala Lumpur-based environmentalist told Arab News that many Malaysians are concerned about the ongoing and worsening issue of haze, which has become an annual occurrence despite efforts by Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast-Asian governments to tackle the transboundary problem. 

“Outdoor activities are badly affected, including environmental activities like hiking and outdoor classes for kids,” Ong said, adding that many families are especially concerned about the pollution’s impact on their children’s education.

“The haze has been hanging around for at least 20 years, but the root causes have never been systematically tackled,” he added. “Distribution of masks, school closures and cloud seeding are only treating the symptoms, so to speak, and do not in any way make society more resilient to haze if and when it returns.”