Allied powers did not accept Japan’s claim over Dokdo
Tokyo’s assertions over peace treaty invalid
The San Francisco Peace Treaty signed by Japan and the Allied Powers in 1951 following World War II fell short of clearly defining the legal ownership of Dokdo, rocky islets sitting midway between Korea and Japan in the East Sea.
Thus, questions remain on how we should interpret the ambiguity of the treaty, which officially ended the war with Japan and what prompted the Allied Powers, including the United States, to decide to omit Dokdo from it.
With the aim of exploring the opposing claims of Seoul and Tokyo over the contentious issue, The Korea Times and the Northeast Asian History Foundation jointly organized the 3rd International Dokdo Essay Contest this year.
BY Audwin Wilkinson
A nation’s right to its own territory is fundamental to its identity as a sovereign entity. Naturally, a challenge to a country’s territory threatens that nation’s sovereignty and identity.
Thus, the long-standing ownership dispute between South Korea and Japan over Dokdo/Takeshima is more than a dispute over fishing rights and natural resources.
Thanks to the civility and restraint of both governments, no military solution has been proposed, despite the intense emotions in both countries.
Due to the intensity of these emotions and the potential consequences of the outcome, a qualified, authoritative and objective third-party arbiter that will adjudicate the case based on demonstrable facts, rather than self-interest, is required.
The San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT) has been cited as one of the most pivotal events in the history of this dispute. However, as the SFPT makes no mention of Dokto/Takeshima, is it as relevant as has been claimed?
Modern wars generally end with a peace treaty. Victors ultimately determine the terms, though negotiation is not uncommon.
In legalistic language, the SFPT sought to eliminate every possibility that Japan might re-militarize, as well as compensate her victims for their losses to Japan’s imperialistic aspirations.
However, at the time of the drafting and signing of the SFPT, both China and Korea were embroiled in civil wars. No one knew which of the competing sides would emerge with the legal authority to sign it.
In the end, neither country signed it. Furthermore, the extent to which their respective interests were provided for by its foreign authors is a long-standing question.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) recognizes the need for a qualified, authoritative and objective third-party arbiter on Dokdo/Takeshima.
Their current English-language web page entitled “Treatment of Takeshima in the San Francisco Peace Treaty” offers up Dean Rusk, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, as this arbiter.
Indeed, he ultimately decided that Dokdo/Takeshima was to be excluded from the SFPT. Japan’s MOFA says that Yang Yu-chan, the then-R.O.K. Ambassador to the U.S.,, requested that the SFPT’s language be changed to clarify that Japan actually renounced its claim to Korea, specifying Dokdo and other islands, in the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, which Japan accepted.
Rusk responded that a) when Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, it did not relinquish sovereignty to those areas, and b) Korea had never claimed Dokdo/Takeshima prior to 1905. Each of these statements deserves to be examined in more detail.
First of all, the Potsdam Declaration did not specify Dokdo/Takeshima. The relevant part of it reads, “Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.”
Legal documents parse terms very precisely, so we may ask who, exactly, is meant by “we.” The Potsdam Declaration was issued jointly by the U.S., Britain and China.
Did Rusk consult with Britain and China before declaring that Dokdo/Takeshima had never been claimed by Korea?
If he didn’t, his reference to the Potsdam Declaration is unilateral and irrelevant. It does not represent that “we” at all. Rusk alone did not have the authority to decide; he needed Britain and China’s input. Japan must provide documentation that Rusk consulted Britain and China before responding to Yang.
Dr. Peter Lowe, the late professor of history at Manchester University, observed that Britain’s policy toward post-war Japan was much more restrictive than that of the U.S., fearing that a quick Japanese economic recovery might revive the Japanese imperialist aspirations.
While information from China is admittedly lacking, it is almost guaranteed that they would have been even less generous. Clearly, Rusk’s reply to Ambassador Yang was neither authoritative nor final.
Secondly, Rusk stated that Dokdo/Takeshima “was according to our information never treated as part of Korea...”
Again, the “our” must include Britain and China. But did Rusk actually research the history of the claims to Dokdo/Takeshima?
Professor Lowe pointed out that the U.S. wanted Japan as a military power base in East Asia. As a result, they wanted that power base to be as expansive as possible, so they were generous to Japan’s territorial designations.
Compared to Russia’s claims to the Kuril Islands, reparation demands from China, the Philippines and other countries, a couple of uninhabited, remote rocks between Korea and Japan must have seemed trivial. Rusk apparently made an easy-but-illicit decision in the U.S.’s favor.
In Rusk’s defense, few people were aware of the dispute over Dokdo/Takeshima. However, Korean researchers have uncovered numerous maps and official Japanese government documents which clearly regard Dokdo/Takeshima as Korean territory.
They render the SFPT and the Potsdam Declaration irrelevant. Furthermore, neither North nor South Korea is a signatory to the SFPT in the first place.
Any authoritative and objective third-party arbiter today would be pressed by the preponderance of evidence to conclude that Dokdo is Korean land.
The writer is an American who has lived in Korea since 1996. He has taught English at university level for 14 years. He is currently undertaking a graduate program at California State University and is studying Korean language at Seoul National University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.