[Bronze Prize Winners] Aggressive inclusion of Dokdo
Nestled in the East Sea between Korea and Japan, Dokdo Island has been viewed as a significant military and commercial asset to both Korea and Japan. Japan’s attempts to claim Dokdo Island as its own have continuously proven inconsistent and untrue by a number of scholars and officials.
The declarations of Japan’s ownership of Dokdo stem from an imperial greed that engrossed the Japanese government for many years. Japan’s history of imperialistic expansion both before and after its incorporation of Dokdo into its territory evinces that Japan’s decision to include Dokdo into the Shimane Prefecture in 1905 was both an illegitimate and aggressive act.
When Japanese fisherman Nakai Yosaburo petitioned the Japanese government in September of 1904 to incorporate Dokdo as part of Japan, he had actually already known that the island belonged to Korea. Initially, Yosaburo intended to entreat the Korean government for fishing rights around the islands, indicating that the islands of Dokdo were indeed properties of Korea.
It was only after the deliberate persuasion of officials in the Japanese Navy that Yosaburo entreated Japan instead. Through this persuasion and submission of Yosaburo’s petition to Japan, the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Akimasa clandestinely called a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Taro and several of his cabinet members in January of 1905.
The petition was officially approved by the Japanese government in February, delineating that Dokdo was part of the Shimane Prefecture. This incorporation was entirely illegitimate, as Japan simply unrightfully “took” what did not belong to them. Japan showed no effective administration of Dokdo, building only a watchtower on the island in 1904. Additionally, in the late 17th century, Japan had previously made an agreement with Korea that banned Japanese ships from sailing to Dokdo.
With no effective control of Dokdo and an agreement that prevented Japanese ships from sailing there, the Japanese government’s approval of Yosaburo’s petition demonstrates, in essence, that Japan stole Dokdo from Korea. This maneuver, while not only blatantly contemptuous of Japan, also came at a time when Japan was engaged in aggressively extending its borders.
In the time nearing up to Japan’s claim to Dokdo in 1905, Japan had recently defeated two of its rivals over territorial battles. Just a decade earlier, Japan defeated the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and was continuing to vanquish the Russians in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.
During these wars, the Korean Peninsula was desired by both Japan and its adversaries, suggesting that Japan had been planning on uncompromisingly taking Korea by force years before the Shimane Prefecture made the decision to annex Dokdo. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan exhibited itself as a power-hungry and domineering state, seeking to subjugate more territory.
Japan’s annexation of Dokdo lit a fuse for the “bomb” Japan planned to drop on Korea. The imperialistic attitude Japan had for expanding its borders continued for years after the incidents of 1905.
Japan’s desire to rule Korea came into full throttle in 1910 with its deceitful annexation and hostile occupation of Korea. While some might argue that Japan’s annexation of Korea may have required some assent on behalf of Korea, research has indicated that Japan coerced its neighbor into signing an annexation treaty and that the treaty was never finalized as the Korean Emperor, whose consent was required to validate any piece of legislature at the time, did not give his approval.
The oppressive Japanese occupation of Korea led to what many call the “cultural genocide” of Korea. Many in the older generation of Korea look back on the years of the Japanese occupation with deep pain and sorrow. If Japan’s addition of Dokdo to its borders happened at a time of peace in the region, perhaps Japan’s actions could be seen as an honest mistake. However, due to the fact that the harsh Japanese dominion over Korea came just five years after 1905, the leaders of Japan clearly held an aggressive agenda.
In retrospect, the actions of Japan in regard to their illegitimate claim to Dokdo simply reflect their imperialistic culture of the time. Japan had only recently emerged as a significant power and wanted to ensure that it could stay powerful, even at the expense of newly independent nations, such as Korea.
Japan selfishly wanted Korea for its own protection from her adversaries, and used the islands of Dokdo simply as a doorstep to keep Korea open to Japanese dominance. Had the Japanese been content with the territory they already had and sought diplomatic rather than devious solutions to its concerns, perhaps a less aggressive Japan could have spared the lives of many, leaving East Asia a more peaceful place.
The writer is a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.