South Korea will build a naval base near an island claimed by both Seoul and Tokyo so that its warships can deploy faster than Japan’s in case of disputes, a lawmaker said Wednesday.
Chung Mi-Kyung of the ruling Grand National Party said the government would build a $300 million naval base on Ulleung island by 2015.
Ulleung is the closest South Korean territory to the Seoul-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) which are known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japan.
Chung cited data from the transport ministry which would partly finance the project, saying construction would begin in 2012. The ministry confirmed the report.
The new base will feature a 300-metre (990-feet) pier big enough to accommodate Aegis destroyers and the 14,000-tonne amphibious landing ship named Dokdo, Chung said.
“It will help strengthen our territorial rights on Dokdo as our naval ships can reach the islands quickly in times of disputes with Japan,” she said in a statement.
Once the base is complete, Seoul would be able to send its ship to Dokdo in an hour and a half compared to the current four hours, she said. Japan’s ships would take about three hours.
South Korea has for decades deployed a small marine police force on the rocky islets.
The dispute over them flared up again in June when Korean Air mounted a test flight of its new aircraft over Dokdo. Tokyo in response ordered its public servants to boycott Korean Air for a month.
Three conservative Tokyo lawmakers who intended to visit Ulleung to reassert their country’s claim to Dokdo were refused permission to enter South Korea in early August.
South Korea the same month lodged a strong diplomatic protest against Japan’s 2011 defence white paper, which describes the islands as Japanese territory.
Older South Koreans still have bitter memories of Japan’s harsh colonial role over Korea from 1910-45.