South Korea is set to close its border with the Japanese island of Hokkaido, marking a new phase in the decades-long territorial dispute between the two countries.
South Korea’s government announced the decision on Friday, with the news expected to set off alarm bells in Tokyo, which has warned of a possible “catastrophe” if Tokyo decides to take unilateral action.
The border will be closed to Japanese citizens for three days starting Monday, the ministry said in a statement, while it added that it will maintain diplomatic ties with Japan through the end of the month.
“We are going to hold regular consultations with Japanese people to discuss their concerns regarding the closure,” it said.
“It is important to take this step in order to prevent a potential catastrophe.
I think it is appropriate that we have a discussion with Japanese officials, and they will have to decide the next step.”
Japan has been negotiating for years with South Korea over the islands, which are disputed by both nations and have been the subject of a series of territorial disputes in recent decades.
The islands have been home to Japanese and Korean soldiers for decades, and are home to a vast population of people who are ethnically Korean.
Tokyo has long said it will not take unilateral measures to settle the dispute, which includes a number of disputed islands and a string of demilitarized zones that Seoul has agreed to respect.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said his country will not tolerate unilateral moves by Japan to interfere in its territorial sovereignty.
The South Korean government also said it would start a dialogue with Japan over the future of the islands.
“Our country will try to resolve this issue through dialogue and dialogue alone,” it added.
South Koreans and Japanese officials will hold a meeting later this month to try to find a way forward.