As tensions run high between China and Japan, Seoul pulled at Tokyo’s strings after organizing a trip for foreign journalists to disputed islands at the heart of historical relations.

South Korea commissioned an excursion to the Dokdo islands in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) for six US and European media groups – including the Financial Times – in an attempt to gain support for its claims over the islands. Japan saw Thursday’s visit as a “new provocation” and lodged a formal complaint.

President Lee Myung-bak made an “unprecedented” visit to the islands on August which angered Japan, which proposed to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. Fighter jets took off South Korea when a Japanese helicopter circled the islands last month.

According to the FT, South Korea has had permanent presence on the islands since 1954, including living quarters for about 45 policemen and an old couple who fish. Japan, however, said they incorporated the territory in 1905, before the Japanese occupation in 1910.

“We were happy to keep quiet, but Japan kept making regular provocations,” ambassador for public diplomacy at South Korea’s foreign ministry Ma Young-sam told the FT.