Fate of Dokdo undecided in peace treaty
This is the third of a five-part series examining Korean and Japanese claims regarding Dokdo and the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 that fell short of clearly defining the legal ownership of the rocky islets in the East Sea. –– ED.
By Lee Tae-hoon
Lee Seok-woo, a law professor at Inha University, is one of the first and most notable Koreans to unearth documents related to the San Francisco Peace Treaty that formally ended the occupation of Japan by the Allied Powers sixty years ago.
Nevertheless, Lee tries to avoid holding media interviews or giving lectures on Dokdo, the field in which he earned his Ph.D. as his research is often seen as a major challenge to the dominant interpretations of the peace treaty here.
In fact, many documents that he has published disclose some of the most powerful evidence in support of Japan’s claim that the United States considered Dokdo part of its territory.
Observers say many scholars in Korea, especially historians, have a firm belief that the peace treaty with Japan signed in San Francisco on Sept. 8, 1951, demands Japan give up its territorial right over Korea’s eastern most islets of Dokdo.
However, Lee does not totally agree with them as the pile of documents that he collected and studied, including 19 drafts of the treaty dating from March 19, 1947, through Aug. 13, 1951, suggest that the United States was often indecisive and in favor of Japan over the fate of Dokdo.
Drafts of peace treaty
Of the 19 drafts that he discovered and a draft dated Sept. 7, 1949 that The Korea Times obtained, seven demand that Japan should renounce the rights and titles to Dokdo, referring to it as the Liancourt Rocks or Takeshima.
Four drafts state Japanese territory includes Dokdo, while the remaining nine do not mention the rocky islands, which Japan secretly annexed five years prior to the colonization of the entire peninsula in 1910.
According to Kim Yong-hwan, a senior researcher at the Dokdo Research Institute, Tokyo annexed Dokdo as part of its territory in 1905 without notifying Seoul amidst the Russo-Japanese War, ignoring the fact that Dokdo was administered by Korea.
Historical records show that Japanese officials concluded that Dokdo was not part of Japan’s territory after carefully studying whether it would be appropriate to include Ulleung Island and Dokdo as their territory upon an inquiry from Shimane Prefecture.
Still, Japan pushed Dokdo’s annexation to the Shimane Prefecture in 1905 as part of its move to install military facilities in major strategic areas on the Korean Peninsula.
Lee claims that the San Francisco Peace Treaty failed to put an end to territorial disputes over Dokdo and other contentious border islands as the Kuril and Senkaku Islands.
The multilateral pact fell short of defining the Kuril Islands that both Japan and Russia claim sovereignty over. It failed to mention not only Dokdo, but also the Senkaku Islands that Japan, China, and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over.
Failure to resolve disputes
Lee noted that the Allied Powers did not give serious consideration to rival claims to titles over contentious territories as they were more concerned with their own geopolitical and strategic interests and feared a possible failure to resolve territorial disputes in East Asia.
A considerable number of U.S. government documents, including an office memorandum on Aug. 6, 1947, from Hugh Borton, the then acting special assistant to the director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs, supports his argument.
“In view of our desire to call a peace conference for Japan as soon as possible...it is imperative that the Department’s views on the treaty be determined as quickly as possible,” states the 1947 memo that Lee discovered during his six-month long hunt at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Documents show that John J. Muccio, then U.S. ambassador to Korea, was concerned with the move to omit Dokdo in the final draft of the treaty.
“I’m aware importance of early completion this treaty but draft leaves impression Korean interests and sensibilities not sufficiently taken into consideration,” the former U.S. ambassador said in a telegram sent to U.S. Secretary of State on July 4, 1951, a month prior to the singing of the pact.
Many Dokdo experts agree that Washington softened its stance on Dokdo to push for an early ratification of the treaty and partly due to the lesson that France’s harsh treatment of Germany after World War I led to anti-French sentiment in Germany and eventually World War II.
Ambiguity of peace treaty
Lee said the United States stayed neutral on the Dokdo issue rather than actively engage in resolving the matter by avoiding specifying the territorial right of the rocky islets sitting midway between Korea and Japan.
“As past U.S. memoranda on Dokdo indicate the final disposition over Dokdo was not completely decided by the U.S. drafters,” he said.
He added that Japan aggressively lobbied the United States in an attempt to reverse the Allied Powers’ decision to return Dokdo to Korea in the process of negotiating the peace treaty, to which Korea was not a signatory state.
In 1947. the Japanese government published an English pamphlet, titled “Minor Islands Adjacent to Japan Proper,” that falsely claimed both Dokdo and the adjacent island of Ulleung were parts of its territory.
Korea, which was engulfed a fratricidal war from 1950 through 1953 after 35 years of colonial rule, failed to provide compelling evidence to persuade the United States to stick to the early drafts of the peace treaty which excluded Dokdo from Japan’s territory.