Rename Dokdo Syngman Rhee Islets
By Andy Jackson
Christmas is not the time for chest-thumping over Dokdo.
Really. The time for chest-thumping over Dokdo (known as Takeshima to our friends across the Sea of Japan, uh … I mean the East Sea) is usually around Independence Movement Day on March 1st or Liberation Day on August 15th.
The latest row over the islets started after Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued new guidelines for supplementary geography education for high school students last week.
Leery of inducing a diplomatic conflict with Seoul, and likely under instructions from higher ups in the government, MEXT offices excluded any direct mention of Dokdo from the guide. However, it does call for teachers to offer information on territorial issues based upon middle school guidelines (which do specifically mention Dokdo) published last year and the claims of the Japanese government.
That was hardly good enough for Seoul, which quickly denounced the guidelines, going as far as calling in Japan's ambassador to complain.
During a press conference denouncing the guidelines last Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young got in a bit of rhetorical cuteness, saying; ``No matter what claim Tokyo makes, our government stresses once again that there is no territorial dispute between the two sides."
Nice Try. Korea claims Dokdo. Japan claims Dokdo. Ergo, there is a territorial dispute between Korea and Japan.
What is the basis of the conflicting claims in this ``no territorial dispute" territorial dispute, and do they hold any water?
If you believe the Korean government's version, Dokdo has been part of Korea since the Silla Kingdom conquered the small tribal territory of Usanguk on the island of Ulleungdo, 87.4 kilometers from Dokdo, in 512 A.D.
Koreans often bring up the case of An Yong-bok when defending their claim to the islets. An and some other Korean fishermen encountered a group of Japanese in 1693 who were on Ulleungdo fishing and cutting trees. The resulting dispute eventually led to an agreement between Korea and Japan in which Japanese citizens were prohibited from going to Ulleungdo.
Since Koreans tend to automatically lump the fate of Ulleungdo and Dokdo together, those incidents close the case in their minds.
The Japanese would beg to differ, noting that Japanese were not prohibited from going to Dokdo by the 1696 agreement and that two Japanese families had official permission to use Dokdo for fishing since the mid 1600s.
Then there is the matter of competing proclamations. Korea's Imperial Degree No. 41 of 1900 and Japan's Shimane Prefecture Public Notice No. 40 of 1905 were both administrative measures setting local administration of Dokdo, which could only be done based upon a prior claim of sovereignty over the islets.
To muddy things even further, the islets and other islands in the area have been called various (and sometimes interchanged) names over the centuries, so it is sometimes difficult to know exactly to which islands older documents are referring.
The United States could have resolved things during its occupation of Korea and Japan immediately after World War Two. There are some documents and statements which support both sides in the Dokdo dispute, but nothing definitive. The U.S. has since refused to take a side.
The September 8, 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, which officially ended the war, makes no mention of Dokdo among the territory which Japan was required to return to Korea. It makes no mention of most of Korea's other islands either, but Dokdo was the only island under disputing claims of sovereignty prior to Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910. In essence, the treaty returned all of the islands around Korea to their status prior to Japan's conquest of Korea. In the case of Dokdo, that meant it returned to disputed status.
One thing Korean fishermen had going for them between January of 1946 and April of 1952 (the scheduled date for the Treaty of San Francisco to come into force) was unrivaled access to the waters around Dokdo due to the imposition of the so-called MacArthur Line, which limited Japanese authority to the area immediately surrounding its home islands.
Fearing that Japan would reassert its claim to Dokdo as soon as the treaty came into force, South Korean President Lee Seung-man (more commonly known in the West as Syngman Rhee) took time from working on the Korean War to declare a ``Peace Line" in the waters around the Korean peninsula in January of 1952. Of course, he made sure to place Dokdo within Korean territory.
He then went to work establishing Korea's effective control of Dokdo. In July of 1953, Korean soldiers fired on a small ship from the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency, which had come to enforce Japan's claim to the water around the islets. By June of 1954, there was a permanent Korean military presence on Dokdo. Since then, Korea has built housing, surveillance facilities, a lighthouse, and a dock there.
That settles it; Dokdo is Korean territory.
Dokdo is not Korean territory because of what the Silla Dynasty did 1500 years ago or because some fisherman took a trip to Japan in the 1690s. It is Korean territory because Lee Seung-man took military control of it and established that Korea was prepared to sacrifice blood and treasure to keep it.
They ought to place a statue of him on Dokdo like a mini-colossus, staring out towards Japan.
Andy Jackson has taught courses on American government and has been writing on Korean politics and other issues for four years. He is the chairman of Republicans Abroad-Korea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.