South Korean singer swims into island dispute with Japan

Story highlights

  • South Korean singer Kim Jang-hoon leading dozens of swimmers to Dokdo or Takeshima
  • The rocky islets are at the center of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan
  • Swimmers will arrive Wednesday, on the 67th anniversary of Korean independence
  • Follows President Lee's visit to the islands Friday, prompting angry response from Japan
A famous South Korean rock singer is just hours away from swimming into the diplomatic row over a small group of rocky islets in the East Sea, or the Sea of Japan.
Kim Jang-hoon is among dozens of amateur athletes who left the eastern port of Uljin Monday, bound for Dokdo, a largely uninhabited set of volcanic islands claimed by both South Korea and Japan, known by Tokyo as Takeshima.
The group's 55-hour, 230-kilometer relay swim is expected to end Wednesday, on the 67th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japanese colonial rule.
Before jumping into the water, singer Kim Jang-Hoon told reporters: "I will never make such a comment as 'Dokdo is our territory' when I arrive there. It's meaningless to do so because they are undeniably our territory," according to the Yonhap news agency.
The politically-charged event comes days after Lee Myung-Bak broke with convention to become the first South Korean president to visit the contested islands.
"Dokdo is indeed our territory and a place worth staking our lives to defend. Let's make sure to safeguard (the islets) with pride," he was reported to have told police officers stationed on the islands.
Lee's visit inflamed Japan which recalled its ambassador to Seoul, Masatoshi Muto, and threatened to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.
"President Lee visited Takeshima, which is an inherent territory of Japan, both in the light of historical facts and based on international law. Therefore it is incompatible with the position of Japan, and so I made a strong protest on the matter," Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba told a press conference Friday.