Tokyo's proposal to take the territorial dispute over islands claimed by both Japan and South Korea to the International Court of Justice was dismissed by Seoul on Tuesday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan rejected Tokyo's proposal of jointly referring the issue of the South Korean controlled islets of Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan, to the Hague-based court, saying it was "not worth consideration", according to the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.
Tokyo, which also lays claim to Dokdo, made the diplomatic proposal formally to Seoul on Tuesday, a move widely regarded as a reaction to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's Aug 10 visit to Dokdo. On Sunday, South Korea unveiled a monument on Dokdo to commemorate the visit, triggering further protests in Japan. Dokdo is a Korean territory historically, geographically and under international laws, Kim said.
South Korea has effectively controlled the island since it gained independence from Japan's colonization in 1945. Tokyo's increasingly loud competing claims over the islands and South Korea's presidential election at the end of this year have prompted Seoul to be firmer with its claim, said Wang Sheng, an expert on the Korean Peninsula studies at Northeast China's Jilin University.
After the election, South Korean leaders may take a different stance on the issue, said Wang, suggesting that the remarks of Park Geun-hye, the newly nominated presidential candidate for South Korea's conservative ruling party may be mainly to woo voters by taking a position distinct of that of her pro-Japan father, former president Park Chung-hee.
"Seoul is unlikely to bring the case to any international body for fear that Tokyo will use Japan's ally, the United States, as leverage on this issue and put pressure on Seoul," he said.
The Korea Herald newspaper warned on Monday that with public sentiment turning increasingly bitter, the protracted standoff may squeeze businesses in both countries, affect tourist numbers due to safety jitters and damage exports of Korean music and television.
Japan on Tuesday suggested Tokyo might take the unusual step of extending the standoff with South Korea over Dokdo into the economic arena. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Japan's cabinet to consider additional measures to deal with the conflict, beyond usual diplomatic channels.
Japan's economic standoff won't be fatal to South Korea or effective in solving the issue, because the two countries' economic ties are far less intertwined than those between China and South Korea, said Wang.
"What Japan wants is to make Dokdo a disputed territory and referring the issue to the ICJ is met with such an intention," Kim said.
Kim warned that South Korea would take "stern measures (against Japan)", if Tokyo continues to make an "unjustified" issue over Dokdo.
The ICJ will not hear the case unless the two parties agree to the referral. Seoul has repeatedly dismissed Japan's proposal to take the matter to the court. This is the third such proposal following failed attempts in 1954 and 1962.
Park also took a tough stance on Dokdo. Speaking after her nomination on Monday, Park called on Japan to resolve the territorial dispute by accepting South Korea's sovereignty.
The only option for successfully managing a relationship in which both sides need each other is to "buck the lure of populism and resort to 'big think'", said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow on Korean studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
"Lee's visit may hold great emotional importance for those who are still focused on past historical injustices between South Korea and Japan, but it distracts from the central reality that ultimately must propel relations between the two countries," he wrote on the think tank's blog on Aug 15.