South Korea, Japan to continue talks over disputed islands

South Korean and Japanese diplomats were set to hold talks Friday to try resolving a standoff over Tokyo 's plan to send survey ships into waters claimed by both countries. Japanese Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Shotaro Yachi was to make an emergency visit to Seoul amid South Korean warnings about a possible high-seas clash if Japan goes through with the study.

Yachi was scheduled to meet with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, South Korea 's Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating. Japan will reportedly delay the maritime study while the talks continue. The Japanese coast guard survey ships had been scheduled to start the study as early as Thursday, but have lingered off the coast as tensions flared.

South Korea has dispatched about 20 gunboats to the disputed waters, and has told Japan to stay away. "We have no choice but to block (the Japanese survey), even if it means mobilizing physical force," Yu told reporters, according to Yonhap news agency. In Seoul , riot police guarded the Japanese embassy as a group of former special forces commandos burned a Japanese flag and denounced Japan 's survey plan. " Japan has again caught the disease of aggression," one placard said.

The disputed waters surround rocky outcroppings, called Dokdo by Koreans and Takeshima in Japan , that lie halfway between the countries and are claimed by both. The area, a rich fishing ground, is also believed to have methane hydrate deposits, a potential source of natural gas. The showdown highlights the rising stakes of rival territorial claims in East Asia , and South Korea 's deep-rooted bitterness over Japan 's 1910-45 colonial rule.

South Korea has accepted Yachi's trip to Seoul on the condition that Japan suspend its maritime research plan, and Japan was planning to put the survey on hold, Yonhap and Japan's Kyodo News agencies reported, citing officials from both countries.

At the same time, Japan warned it would consider any interference with its ships a breach of international law. "We are speaking about survey boats belonging to the Japanese government," Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary foreign policy committee Friday. "Any action against them would clearly violate the principles of international law."

Japan maintains the survey is needed to match a South Korean effort to fully map the sea floor and propose its own names for underwater formations such as basins and ridges. Seoul has long opposed the international acceptance of the name Sea of Japan for the body of water between the two countries, considering it a colonial vestige. Seoul prefers the name East Sea .

Aso said there would be "no need for us to conduct a survey" if South Korea drops it name-change proposal, which would be submitted in June at an international sea-mapping onference in Germany . South Korea 's Foreign Ministry rejected such a compromise.

"Basically, our position is that we will submit names," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho. "We believe that it is our just obligation, to register names and make efforts for new names through registration." The South Korean patrol vessels dispatched to the area were slated to conduct exercises but not seizure drills said South Korean Coast Guard official Jang Soo-pyo. The two countries are also at odds over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a war shrine that critics, including Seoul , consider a glorification of Japan 's imperialist past, reports the AP.


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