Seoul, Apr 21: Japan is sending a senior envoy to Seoul to try to find a middle ground in a standoff over a group of desolate islands claimed by both countries that has jarred an already strained relationship between the two.
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi will meet with South Korean counterpart Yu Myung-hwan over the dispute, that has heated up over Japan's plans to conduct a maritime survey near the contested islands.
''We are trying to avert a physical confrontation, but we can't run away from the problem,'' Yu was quoted as saying today by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Japan's top government spokesman said Yachi is being dispatched in order to help find a peaceful solution.
South Korea has warned of ''stern measures'' if Japan pressed ahead with a plan to send survey ships to waters near the rocky islands, which Koreans call Tokto and Japanese call Takeshima.
Tokyo has offered to call off the survey if South Korea dropped a plan to register Korean names for seabed areas near the islands at a June international maritime conference.
The desolate islands are about the same distance from the mainlands of the two countries and are controlled by South Korea.
In a show of force, Seoul has ordered its coast guard on high alert and has sent 20 vessels to the disputed waters.
The islands sit in rich fishing grounds and South Korea's state gas firm says they lie above unexploited energy resources potentially worth billions of dollars.
But Seoul is also deeply motivated by rancour over Japan's harsh colonial rule over the peninsula in the first half of last century.