Contentious post-colonialist document
The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty (The Treaty) has become the center of debate on the issue of sovereignty over Dokdo islets. The Treaty could have sealed Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo, but instead became an arm of Japan to refute otherwise.
The Treaty inter alia provided terms to settle questions still outstanding as a result of the existence of a state of war between Japan and Allied Powers such as the status of the minor islands that were under Japanese sovereignty at the end of the war. The controversial Article 2(a) states that: “Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet (Ullungdo).”
Dokdo was not mentioned in the Treaty albeit in-depth analysis of the text reveals that while the Treaty only specified three among the total of 3,215 islands belonging to Korea, they were listed merely to illustrate the status of the remaining outlying islands.
Many other Korean islands were also not explicitly mentioned, but nevertheless form part of Korean territory. Hence, the Treaty could not be used to determine sovereignty over Dokdo.
The Treaty was drafted 18 times before it was signed on Sept. 8, 1951. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th drafts explicitly recognized Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo. Consequently, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 14th drafts recognized Japan’s sovereignty over the same.
Finally, the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th drafts like the final version were silent on Dokdo’s status.
Clearly, original intention existed on the part of Allied Powers to settle the issue of Dokdo, but instead left the same open for deliberation.
It must be emphasized that the Treaty is a political document; U.S. being the principal party in drafting the Treaty, protected its own interests to the cost of Dokdo’s omission.
The events leading to 1951 became crucial in the final outcome of the Treaty. The U.S. was more preoccupied with the Cold War and its competition with the Soviet Union than with regional territorial disputes between Japan and Korea.
The decision to refrain from resolving Dokdo’s sovereignty had more to do with the goal of strengthening U.S. Cold War strategy than with the merits of Dokdo’s status.
This strategy was evidenced by a memorandum by the UK Delegation to the U.S. Department of State on the drafting of the territorial clause of the Treaty.
A British diplomat wrote that “in determining which of the minor islands shall remain under Japanese sovereignty the decisive considerations must be strategic.”
The U.S. obviously agreed with this conclusion. The strategic considerations that loomed large during this period included future U.S. use of Dokdo, the utility of a short treaty in negotiating with other Allies and the need for a buffer zone around Japan to assist in limiting communist influences.
Furthermore, the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, giving the sovereignty of Dokdo to Korea, Japan would have been placed in an invidious position and would be vulnerable to Communist domination.
It was noted that Dokdo have been used by U.S. forces during the occupation as a bombing range and have possible value as weather or radio station site.
Another significant event that led to the omission of Dokdo in the Treaty was the appointment of John Foster Dulles to oversee the Treaty deliberations.
As a result of Dulles’s influence, new Treaty drafts (9th draft onward) were significantly shorter and vaguer than previous versions.
By not addressing every detail, U.S. negotiations with its Allies could proceed more quickly, thus allowing for an earlier signing of the Treaty.
As the Cold War intensified and the Korean War expanded, the rebuilding of Japan and restoration of Japan’s role in Northeast Asia came to be seen by the U.S. as matters of vital importance.
Allied Powers feared that heavy-handed, punitive measures against Japan would aggravate Japan’s already fragile economy, advocate Japanese resentment towards the U.S., and increase the risk of communism taking root in Japan.
The signing of the Treaty was inevitable step towards repairing U.S. –Japan relations as well as the Japanese economy and advancing U.S. efforts to insulate Japan from the spread of communism in East Asia. Dulles thus favored immediate end to negotiations, thereby leaving the Dokdo issue unanswered.
Kent E. Calder has argued that ambiguous, unsettled boundaries were a major element of the Treaty, explaining that the failure to resolve boundary disputes helped make Northeast Asia the ‘Arc of Crisis’ that it has been ever since.”
Calder’s view is that intra-regional conflicts provoked by Treaty ambiguity ultimately enhanced the U.S.’s geopolitical leverage in Northeast Asia.
The Treaty was heavily politicized, falling short of the peace it should promote.
Its territorial clause does not purport to define Korea’s boundaries in any detail and does not mention Dokdo, and for these reasons, this Treaty is irrelevant to the Dokdo issue.
The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty is no less but a post-colonialist document produced by a deliberate conspiracy. Such document is unacceptable to resolve the issues of the present world order.
The writer is a Filipino undertaking an MBA course at National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. He is fond of writing essays. He can be reached at email@example.com.