Japan Working to Resolve Liancourt Rock Dispute

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S E C R E T TOKYO 002159
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/20/2026
REF: A. TOKYO 002098
B. TOKYO 002154
Classified By: Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer. Reason: 1.4 (b)(d).

1. (S) Summary: During an April 20 discussion of Japan's dispute with Korea over Japanese plans to conduct an undersea survey in an EEZ area claimed by the two countries, MOFA informed the Embassy that:

-- Korea had rejected Japan's three-part proposal for resolving the issue through dialogue;

-- Korea offered to make its re-naming proposals at an "appropriate time" if Japan would stop its undersea mapping;

-- VFM Yachi hoped to travel to Seoul on April 21 to discuss the issue;

-- Japan Coast Guard vessels had yet to leave port to conduct the mapping.

End Summary.

2. (S) At an April 20 meeting at MOFA, Asian Affairs Bureau DDG Shiro Sadoshima told the Political Minister Counselor that Korea had just sent its reply to a Japanese proposal to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Korea's response was somewhat ambiguous, Sadoshima said, in that Seoul stated it would make its re-naming proposals at an "appropriate time" if Japan would stop its planned undersea mapping of an area within the disputed EEZ.

Japan's three-part proposal to Korea to resolve the issue had been:

1) the two sides should resume bilateral talks on the demarcation of the EEZ, last held in 2000;

2) if Korea would desist from making its renaming proposals at the upcoming meeting in Germany, Japan would put off its oceanographic survey; and

3) the two sides should establish a pre-notification mechanism similar to the arrangement Japan has with China on oceanographic surveys in the East China Sea.

Noting that Japan and Korea had previously worked out an arrangement permitting fishing by the two countries in the disputed area, Sadoshima said Japan had thought the latter proposal would have been acceptable to Korea.

However, Seoul has informed Tokyo that its proposal for mutual pre-notification was not acceptable to Korea.

3. (S) In reviewing Japan's position, Sadoshima said the Japanese had learned that Korea intended to propose the renaming of certain undersea geographical features in the disputed EEZ area adjacent to the Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima/Tokdo islands) at the June 21 Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) meeting in Germany (reftels). The Japanese names of some of these features, he stated, had already been registered with the IOC's General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).

The Korean effort was part of an initiative to rename the Sea of Japan as the "East Sea." Although Tokyo had objected, Seoul had already conducted four surveys of the disputed area.

While Japan has restrained its reaction to the Korean initiative, Tokyo feels it must be prepared to make its own counter-proposal at the upcoming meeting and thus needs to update its maps of the ocean bed, Sadoshima asserted.

4. (C) The dispute over Takeshima/Tokdo lies at the root of the problem, observed Sadoshima, as claims over the islands form the basis of the EEZ demarcations.

Since 1954 Japan has offered to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, but Korea has refused.

Nonetheless, Sadoshima averred, Japan wants to settle the matter diplomatically through dialogue.

He confirmed that VFM Yachi was seeking the permission of FM Aso and Prime Minister Koizumi to travel to Seoul to discuss the issue.

If approved, Yachi hoped to travel on April 21. Sadoshima stated that Japan would adddress the issue calmly and noted that the Japan Coast Guard vessels scheduled to depart that day to undertake the seabed mapping are still in port.