[Gold Prize Winner] Dokdo: reminder of Japans imperialistic past
Dokdo comprises two main islets: Dongdo (East islet), and Seodo (West islet) and numerous surrounding rocks.
Dokdo is located about 215 kilometers off the eastern border of Korea and 90 kilometers east of South Korea’s Ulleung Island.
The name of the island has changed over time, a testament to the historical confusion over the subject, which led to today’s dispute between Korea and Japan.
The Island was first recorded as part of Korea in a document generated during the Silla Dynasty in 512.
An official publication called the “History of the Three Kingdoms”, written in 1145, refers to the conquest of Usanguk, an area that included Dokdo.
The historical fact that Dokdo belongs to Korea was confirmed over the centuries by numerous other documents published in Korea and abroad, and even in Japan.
For example, in 1870, Japanese officials dispatched to Korea submitted a report to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the reasons why Ulleungdo and Dokdo belonged to Korea.
In 1900, Korea issued Imperial Decree No.
41, which was published on October 27 and distributed to the international community, including Imperial Japan and placed Dokdo under the jurisdiction of the Ulleung County office.
When analyzing the Dokdo dispute we must take into consideration the historical context surrounding Japan’s involvement in Korea during the early 20th century.
By studying the important events of this time, it’s possible to understand how Japan annexed Dokdo.
Historical records show that Japanese officials carefully studied whether it would be appropriate to include Ulleung Island and Dokdo as their territory upon an inquiry from Shimane Prefecture, but concluded that they are not part of Japan.
Japans actions radically changed though, as the Russo-Japanese War intensified.
On February 23, 1904, immediately after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War and about a year before the Japanese incorporated Dokdo, Japan forced the signing of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904, thereby laying the foundation to establish military bases on Korean land and dispatch troops throughout the country.
Therefore, even before the formal establishment of a protectorate in Korea, the Japanese were making inroads on Korean sovereignty.
On September 29, 1904, the Japanese citizen Nakai Yozaburo submitted a “Request for Territorial Incorporation of Liancourt Island (Dokdo) and Its Lease,” but the Ministry of Home Affairs rejected it at first.
After the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan recognized the strategic value of Ulleungdo and Dokdo, the waters where the Russian Vladivostok Fleet had collided with the Japanese fleet.
Thus, as the Russo-Japanese War escalated, the forced incorporation of Dokdo was quickly carried out on January 28, 1905.
Japan named the island Takeshima and placed it under Shimane Prefecture, in essence approving the petition it had previously rejected.
The Japanese Cabinet declared it reached a decision to incorporate Dokdo, on grounds that it had been terra nullius under international law, stating: “There is no evidence to recognize that this uninhabited island was ever occupied by a foreign country.” However, Japan’s claim to terra nullius conflicts with its previous recognition of the islets as Korean territory.
Additionally, international law requires that when a nation obtains new territory it must be done in an open and public manner.
Obviously, this is necessary to avoid conflicts when several states wish to incorporate the same unclaimed territory.
The question is did Japan declare its decision with a sufficient degree of publicity in 1905?
The Japanese government did not announce the Cabinet decision in the official gazette or made a public announcement at the central government level.
The decision was only reported in a local newspaper, the San-in Shimbun, on February 24, 1905.
It’s not clear how many people actually read the article, but it’s very unlikely this was seen by many Japanese people, and was certainly not read by citizens of Korea and other concerned nations.
There was no way the Korean government could have come to notice this incorporation announcement.
Because of that, Koreans were not aware of Japan’s annexation of Dokdo until the Magistrate of Ulleungdo Sim Heung-taek was told in person in 1906.
However, why did Japan seize Dokdo so quietly? There are two main reasons which involve Japan’s military and political activity in Korea during the Russo-Japanese War.
From a strategic standpoint, it would be an unwise move to publicly announce the incorporation of Dokdo and then station military personnel there.
Japan was at war with Russia at this time and the East Sea was a major battleground.
Therefore, Japan would lose the advantage of surveillance by an open declaration of Dokdo’s incorporation.
From a political standpoint, Japan was worried not to show a too forceful approach in Korea.
The aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War affected how Japan handled the annexation of Dokdo and Korea.
After the war, Russia, France and Germany worked together in the Triple Intervention to prevent Japanese territorial encroachment in Manchuria.
This incident made Japan very careful not to use tactics in Korea that might appear overly aggressive as it might cause other powers to intervene in Korea as well.
After the Russo-Japanese War, Japan forced the signing of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905, which gave Japan complete responsibility for Korea’s foreign affairs.
Thus, by the time the Koreans became aware of the incorporation of Dokdo, the ability for them to file a formal protest at a state-to-state level was already lost.
In conclusion, Japan’s illegal incorporation of Dokdo was not a singular, isolated act of aggression but rather a link in a chain of events leading to the aggressive annexation of the entire Korean peninsula.
Today the Republic of Korea administers Dokdo, nevertheless the Japanese Government still claims sovereignty over the island.
After the Tōhoku earthquake and the following devastating tsunami, the Koreans showed great sympathy for the neighboring nation.
South Koreans raised a record sum in public donations for victims of the earthquake and tsunami.
This seems to me like a sign from the Koreans for a new and peaceful relationship between those two countries.
Now it’s time for the Japanese and the Japanese Government to take a stand against their brutal imperialistic past and accept that Dokdo belongs to Korea.
The writer is a student in Salzburg, Austria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.