History Clearly Shows Dokdo Belongs to Korea
By Michael Ha
``There is not a single prominent historian in Japan who claims Dokdo is Japanese territory. Not one! There are no major academic dissertation papers from Japan that identify Dokdo as part of Japan historically either.''
That's according to Choi Suh-myun, a leading academic who has spent the past 50 years researching and studying the histories of Korea and Japan. Choi, a professor emeritus at Myongji University in Seoul and chairman of the International Korea Research Institute, spent decades in Japan before permanently moving back to Korea in the 1990s. He has long been one of the staunchest defenders of the Dokdo islets as Korean territory.
Professor Choi, often referred to as the ``elder statesman of modern Korean history,'' has spent years poring over obscure Japanese documents and ancient papers preserved at government archives in Japan. He's been dubbed by other academics as ``a living museum'' and even ``the godfather of Korea-Japan history.''
One of his biggest passions has been researching the history of East Sea islands including Ulleung-do and Dokdo. His conclusion: Japan's own historical documents unequivocally show Dokdo islets certainly did not, and do not, belong to Japan.
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Last week, the professor also showed the local media several pictures his institute has taken on Ulleung-do. These photos showed that on some clear days, during certain hours, one can observe Dokdo from the island without the aid of a telescope.
The photos serve as proof that ancient Korean texts and scrolls were indeed accurate in saying that Dokdo was part of a group of Korean islands in the East Sea and that these islets can be seen with the naked eye from Ulleung-do.
Choi's staff and photographers had to spend considerable time on the island to get a clear shot of the islets because of sea mists that usually obscure the view from the coastline.
Japanese officials have argued that accounts from ancient Korean texts that described observing Dokdo from Ulleung-do are inaccurate. They have claimed Dokdo is too far away from Ulleung-do to be considered Korean territory.
While there are numerous descriptions of the Dokdo islets in ancient Korean texts, some dating as far back as the Shilla Kingdom (57 B.C.-935), there are no historical texts from Japan that claim an eyewitness account of Dokdo from Japanese territory.
Dokdo is 87 kilometers away from Ulleung-do located near mainland Korea. On the other hand, Dokdo islets are more than 161 kilometers away from Oki Island, the nearest Japanese territory.
Choi said there is a world of difference between Korea ― which can plainly observe Dokdo from nearby Ulleung-do ― and Japan, whose closest island to the East Sea islets is located twice as far away.
``Dokdo islets belong to a larger group of Korean islands, and Ulleung-do is the main island of that group in the East Sea," he said.
History Shows Japan's Claim Has No Merit
Choi said the reason he first got into seriously studying Dokdo history was because ``when you look at Japan's historical documents and that country's ancient texts, it's really difficult to come up with the thesis that Dokdo belongs to Japan.''
He continued: ``Looking at Japan's historical texts, questions naturally arise over how Japan can possibly claim territorial sovereignty.
``There are some Japanese scholars in the field of international law who, after looking at materials provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, claim Dokdo as part of Japan,'' the professor said.
``But from leading Japanese history scholars, there is not one single academic dissertation asserting Japan's sovereignty,'' Choi said.
``On the other hand, there are three to four prominent historians in Japan, including Professor Naito Saichu at Simane University, who actually argue Dokdo is not part of Japan.''
Choi said that when territorial issues are discussed between nations, documents that are given the biggest weight tend to be ancient official maps that were put together and anthologized by past governments. ``But when you look at four different types of official maps compiled during Japan's Tokugawa period, not a single one of them shows Dokdo or Ulleung-do.''
It appears that Japan wants to take the Dokdo issue to the international community and to the International Court of Justice, the professor said. ``But there is absolutely no need to take it that far at all. At any rate, the International Court rules using original historical texts, and there is just no way Japan could prevail with the kinds of historical text it has.''
He advised that Korean academics shouldn't just react to Japan's claims over Dokdo. Instead, they should take a more proactive role in demonstrating its past history as part of Korea. ``And also, we should study Ulleung-do as well as Dokdo. Japan originally wanted to claim Ulleung-do rather than Dokdo. Koreans should be aware of that fact.
``A few years ago, a Korean university told me that the school was establishing a new research center to study Dokdo and invited me to give a lecture. I advised the university that the center should study the history of Ulleung-do as well as Dokdo," Choi said.
``Now, that office is called the East Sea Research Center and I think that's a positive development. If you want to discuss territorial issues, you need to have a wide range of knowledge.''
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Dokdo is Japan's indigenous territory and the ministry also seems to hold the view that international law would back Japan's claim, Choi noted.
``But when you look at Korea-Japan relations during the 20th century, you quickly realize that their argument has no merit. In 1905, the Japanese government took steps to try to annex the East Sea islets. If Dokdo had already been part of Japan from past history, Japan wouldn't have had to take that step."
Choi added: ``Japan claims Dokdo islets were part of Japan's indigenous territory, but Japan didn't even have a name for them. In the early part of the 20th century, the Japanese government used the name `Liancourt Rocks' to describe Dokdo.
``Even from Japan's Meiji period, there were official government announcements and edicts, issued from Japan's central authorities at that time, warning Japanese citizens not to trespass on Dokdo or Ulleung-do `because they were foreign territories' and not part of Japan. These official documents are still preserved at Japan's regional government archives.''
Russia Says `Of Course, Dokdo Belongs to Korea'
Choi traveled to Russia a few years ago to visit the country's Far Eastern Research Center. At the office, he asked the lead academic in charge of Japan research, ``Whose land is Dokdo?"
The Russian academic's response? ``That's a stupid, silly question. Of course, Dokdo belongs to Korea."
Choi noted: ``In Russia, it's common knowledge that Dokdo belongs to Korea. In the past, Russia surveyed the East Sea islets. It's one of a few countries to have done that and Russia firmly believes Dokdo is part of indigenous Korean territory.''
Choi said that traditionally, some Korean academics have lagged behind in researching Dokdo's history. ``But Japan has been doing a lot of research on this issue in recent years. I think it's because Japan needs to prepare a lot of convincing documents to back up its claim if it wants to take over territory that belongs to someone else."
``I am 80 years old now and am still researching and looking through ancient documents in Korea and Japan that may shed more light on our history. I hope this can maybe set an example for young scholars.''