UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — South Korean troops began a two-day large-scale exercise on Sunday on an island that Japan also claims sovereignty, prompting Tokyo to protest days after Seoul announced the cancellation of an intelligence-sharing deal with its neighbor, further worsening ties.
Tokyo and Seoul have long been at odds over sovereignty over the small group of islands called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. The islands are located about halfway between the two neighbors in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
A South Korean Defense Ministry source said the military exercise began on Sunday, involving the participation of naval, air and ground forces, as well as naval personnel.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry called the exercise unacceptable and said it had lodged a protest with South Korea and demanded it end.
“It is certainly an inherited part of the territory of Japan,” Kenji Kanasuji, director general of the ministry’s Asia and Ocean Affairs Bureau, told the South Korean embassy in Tokyo in a statement.
South Korea’s Blue House presidential spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said the exercises were annual and not targeted to a specific country.
“This is a training to protect our sovereignty and our land,” she told reporters in Seoul.
A much larger number of personnel took part in the exercise than previous exercises, and it also spread more widely at sea between South Korea and Japan, a South Korean navy official told Reuters.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was the first time a destroyer equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system and army special forces had taken part in the exercise.
Tensions in the region have escalated amid a fierce political and economic dispute between South Korea and Japan, North Korea’s launch of a number of missiles and China and Russia conducting military patrols.
South Korea announced on Thursday the cancellation of an intelligence-sharing deal with Japan, prompting Tokyo to protest and deepening a decades-old dispute that has hurt trade and security cooperation between the two countries over North Korea.
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