South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is visiting islands also claimed by Japan, in a move set to raise diplomatic tensions.
Lee Myung-bak flew to the islands, which are known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan.
A Kyodo news agency report said Japan had summoned South Korea’s ambassador to protest against the visit.
Both South Korea and Japan say they have a historical claim to the islands, and the issue has been a long-standing thorn in relations.
The islands, which are roughly equidistant from the two countries, are small but lie in fishing grounds which could also contain large gas deposits.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is visiting islands also claimed by Japan, in a move set to raise diplomatic tensions
South Korea has controlled them since 1954 and stations a small coastguard detachment on them.
Lee Myung-bak is the first South Korean leader to visit the islands. The visit was announced by his spokeswoman early on Friday.
“If the visit is made, it would go against our country’s position and so we strongly urge its cancellation,” Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told journalists.
“We must respond to it firmly.”
He said the visit “would definitely have a large impact” on ties.
The South Korean president was first due to visit Ulleung Island before flying on to the disputed area, his spokeswoman said.
Lee Myung-bak’s visit comes with the two countries’ football teams due to play off for the Olympic bronze medal later in the day.
It also comes shortly before South Korea marks the anniversary of the end of Japanese colonial rule.
• Known as Dokdo (Solitary islands) in Korea, Takeshima (Bamboo islands) in Japan
• Also known as Liancourt rocks
• Claimed by Japan and South Korea, but occupied by South Korea since 1954
• Just 230,000 sq m in size, with no fresh water
• Surrounding waters valuable for their fishing
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has apologized to the nation over corruption investigations involving his brother and former aides.
“I bow my head and apologize for causing the public concern as a result of these incidents,” Lee Myung-bak said in a short address on television.
His brother, Lee Sang-deuk, was detained by police on corruption charges earlier this month.
Lee Myung-bak’s five-year presidential term comes to an end in February 2013.
Lee Sang-deuk, a former lawmaker for six terms and reportedly the president’s political mentor, faces allegations of taking 600 million won ($525,000) in bribes from two savings banks to help them avoid an audit.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has apologized to the nation over corruption investigations involving his brother and former aides
As the elder brother to South Korea’s head of state, his arrest and possible trial could affect support for the ruling party in December’s presidential elections.
There has been widespread anger over the savings bank scandal. Since the start of this year, South Korean regulators have closed 20 of the nation’s weakest banks.
Many of them were so-called savings banks, which were created following the 1997 Asian financial crisis. There used to be more than 100 of these small regional lenders, which were either private or rural co-operatives.
However, a rising number of mortgage defaults in the country’s lacklustre real-estate market following the 2008 financial crisis led many of these lenders to face capital and liquidity shortages.
In January 2011, the financial regulator began suspending operations of banks that did not have enough money.
Two of the troubled savings banks were Solomon Savings Bank, which was shut two months ago, and Mirae Savings Bank. Both allegedly made payments to the elder Lee Sang-deuk.
But prosecutors investigating the savings bank scandal allege the illegal activity goes much wider, and have indicted nearly 200 people, including politicians, lobbyists and bankers.