A growing number of people are visiting the Dokdo islets in the East Sea by ferry after the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Korea Maritime Transportation Safety Authority on Wednesday, Dokdo Day, a total of 278-thousand-710 people visited the islets by ferry in 2022, a threefold increase from the previous year, and larger than the comparable pre-pandemic level of 260-thousand in 2019.
The number of visitors is rapidly increasing after plunging in the wake of the pandemic, having already reached 203-thousand so far this year with expectations that it will reach 250-thousand by the end of December.
The figure is likely to increase further next year as a local ferry company plans to launch a 500-ton high-speed craft between Ulleung Island and Dokdo in mid-March next year, providing two trips a day.
Last year, the number of ferry operations between Ulleung Island and Dokdo was 777 on four routes, well above the 284 in 2020 before a rebound to 408 the following year and a recovery to pre-pandemic levels last year.
South Korea has strongly protested against Japan’s renewed claim over the Dokdo islets in its annual defense white paper, calling for an immediate retraction.
According to the foreign ministry on Friday, Seo Min-jeong, director-general for Asia and Pacific affairs, summoned Mondo Yamamoto, acting deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy, to lodge the protest.
The ministry spokesperson issued a statement saying that Seoul strongly objects to Tokyo's repeated unjustified claim over the islets, which are historically, geographically, and by international law a part of South Korean territory.
Seoul also pledged to respond sternly to any type of provocation regarding Dokdo, before urging the neighboring country to face the fact that its renewed claims are detrimental to the establishment of the two sides' future-oriented ties.
The Fumio Kishida Cabinet earlier adopted the 2023 defense white paper, which claimed that the territorial dispute over the easternmost islets remains unresolved.
The government said it has dismissed Japan's unjust territorial claims following a visit by an opposition lawmaker to South Korea's easternmost Dokdo islets.
Responding to an inquiry on Wednesday about a diplomatic protest by Tokyo against a visit by main opposition Democratic Party(DP) Rep. Jeon Yong-gi the day before, a foreign ministry official said that the dismissal was delivered through a diplomatic channel.
The official reiterated Seoul's position that the islets are South Korean territory according to history, geography, and international law, and that any claim of territorial sovereignty by Japan cannot be accepted.
On Tuesday, Jeon posted photos of his Dokdo visit on social media, after which Japan's Kyodo News reported that Tokyo lodged a formal protest to the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo and the foreign ministry in Seoul.
Japan has reportedly lodged a protest over a visit by a South Korean lawmaker to the Dokdo islets in the East Sea on Tuesday.
According to Japan's Kyodo News and NHK, Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, called a minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo to express deep regret over the visit.
Funakoshi reportedly demanded that South Korea prevent a recurrence of a visit by main opposition Democratic Party Rep. Jeon Yong-gi, who posted a photo of himself on the islets to his social media account on Tuesday.
Criticizing the visit as absolutely unacceptable and very regrettable, the director general stressed that it took place despite Japan’s opposition, while claiming that the islets are inherently Japanese territory both historically and under international law.
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul reportedly conveyed a similar message to the South Korean foreign ministry.
The government has strongly protested Japan's renewed claim over Dokdo in its latest annual diplomatic book, calling for a retraction.
In a statement by its spokesperson on Tuesday, the foreign ministry in Seoul said Tokyo has repeated its wrongful territorial claim over the easternmost islets, which are historically, geographically, and by international law a part of South Korean territory.
The ministry said it plans to sternly respond to any similar unjustified claim from Japan, before calling on Tokyo to realize that such actions are counterproductive to the establishment of future-oriented bilateral relations.
The ministry also summoned Naoki Kumagai, the deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to lodge a formal protest.
For the sixth consecutive year, Tokyo has claimed that Seoul has continued "illegal occupation" of the islets.
The main opposition Democratic Party(DP) has submitted a request for a parliamentary probe into the recent South Korea-Japan summit.
During a Supreme Council meeting on Wednesday, DP floor leader Park Hong-keun said the party strongly condemns Japan's blatant distortion of history and malicious infringement of South Korean sovereignty.
He decried the approval by Japan’s education ministry of textbooks denying the forced nature of wartime labor by Koreans and repeating false claims to the Dokdo islets less than two weeks after the summit.
Park said President Yoon's “humiliating diplomacy” with Tokyo has come at the cost of an insult suffered by the Korean people.
Saying that the issue cannot be overlooked, he asked the government to respond with stern diplomatic measures that go as far as summoning of the Japanese ambassador, while also calling on President Yoon to directly protest to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
As for the parliamentary probe, Park said the investigation will look into whether there were discussions on wartime sex slavery and Dokdo during Yoon's visit to Japan and whether Tokyo requested the lifting of restrictions on Fukushima seafood imports.
Park said the probe will also examine why South Korea took the first diplomatic steps with the withdrawal of its complaint with the World Trade Organization and initiated steps to normalize a military intelligence sharing pact and reinstate Japan on its trade whitelist.
South Korea has lodged a protest over the Japanese government's approval of school textbooks that dilute the forced nature of wartime labor by Koreans and intensify territorial claims to the Dokdo islets.
Vice foreign minister Cho Hyun-dong on Tuesday summoned Naoki Kumagai, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese embassy, to the foreign ministry to protest the matter.
The deputy chief was called in as Japanese ambassador Koichi Aiboshi is currently in Japan.
After meeting with Cho, Kumagai left the ministry building without responding to reporters' questions about how the latest issue may affect bilateral relations.
Despite the conciliatory mood with Tokyo in recent days, South Korea's government is expected to continuously demand that Japan correct its stance regarding historical distortions.
A foreign ministry official told reporters that Seoul will continue to communicate with Japan through diplomatic channels and express regret, file protest and demand change on the textbook issue.
South Korea has expressed deep regret over the Japanese government's authorization of elementary school textbooks that dilute the forced nature of wartime labor by Koreans and strengthened territorial claims to the Dokdo islets.
In a statement by a foreign ministry spokesperson on Tuesday, Seoul expressed regret over Tokyo's authorization of textbooks repeating misguided claims that have continued for decades.
The government stressed that Dokdo belongs to Korea historically, geographically and under international law and that Japan's claims to the easternmost islets are unacceptable.
It added that a diluted revision of wording related to wartime forced labor in the books is also regrettable and urged Japan to demonstrate through actions its expressed spirit of apology and self-reflection regarding its past.
The government said an accurate view of history by future generations is the foundation of constructive and future-oriented bilateral relations, calling on the Japanese government to squarely face history and be more responsible in educating its youth.
The first sunrise of 2023 in South Korea will be observed from the easternmost Dokdo islets at 7:26 a.m.
According to the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute on Thursday, the first sunrise will be then be viewed in Busan at 7:32 a.m., Gwangju at 7:41 a.m. and Seoul at 7:47 a.m.
Meanwhile, the final sunset of the year will last be seen on the islands near South Jeolla Province around 5:40 p.m.
The foreign ministry strongly protested claims made by Japan over South Korea's easternmost Dokdo islets in its annual defense white paper, calling for an immediate retraction.
In a statement issued by spokesperson Choi Young-sam on Friday, the ministry accused Tokyo of repeating its unjust claims of sovereignty over the islets, which are South Korean territory historically, geographically, and by international law.
The spokesperson said that repeatedly making such claims is detrimental to efforts to build future-oriented bilateral relations.
Seoul also pledged to sternly respond to any type of provocation by Tokyo pertaining to the islets.
Meanwhile, the acting director-general for the ministry's Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau summoned Makoto Hayashi, the Japanese Embassy's minister for political affairs, to lodge a formal protest.
Earlier, Japan's Fumio Kishida Cabinet adopted the latest version of the paper, in which Tokyo laid claims over Dokdo for the 18th consecutive year.