Takeshima/Doko: Islands disputed by Japan and Korea. ©Robert Gilhooly Photo
The link to the article published in the Japan Times no longer works and it seems the paper has taken the story offline, probably bowing to pressure from the Korean government no doubt. So I have pasted the story about Dokdoas it appeared in the Japan Times below.
Link here to recently published story about disputed islands in the East Sea, I mean, the Sea of Japan. Brilliant trip to one of the world’s most isolated islands with a current occupancy of 2 people. You can see more photos from this trip here
By Rob Gilhooly
Seong-do Kim is trying to look relaxed, but failing. Straight backed, arms pulled tight to his sides, he chatters away in a dialect that earlier even the Korean translator had struggled to comprehend.
One thing that’s clear is Kim has toothache: Our common language – that globally prized fall-back called ballpark signing – involves a finger pointing into open mouth followed by a scrunched up face, the deep lines in this 70-year-old man’s weather-beaten features providing all the auxiliary punctuation required.
Another message he successfully conveys consists of that same grimace prefaced by a forefinger pointing seaward and a hand over his heart. “I miss home,” this presumably means.
“I feel so comfortable there,” he says later through the translator. When he does make rare trips to the mainland, to see his three children or, as is the case this time, to visit a dentist, he feels uneasy among the crowds. “I can’t wait to go back.”
Home for Kim is on one of a group of tiny islands that are invisible from where we stand some 215 km away on a trench-riddled beach on South Korea’s east coast. Barely larger than Tokyo’s Hibiya Park, those islands are, however, a politically charged symbol for South Koreans and Japanese alike, triggering confrontations, demonstrations, diplomatic spats and mutterings of international tribunals.
Kim and his wife Shin-yeol have lived there for 40 years, the only permanent residents on what they and all South Koreans call Dokdo, two craggy, treeless islands and 33 surrounding rocks and reefs that Japanese know as Takeshima and anyone not wishing to earn the wrath of either refers to as the Liancourt Rocks.
Only one of those names could be heard aboard the ferry from Pohang port on the southeast coast of the Korean peninsula during a five-hour trip that is currently one of only two boats serving the islands.
As we approached the Liancourts, a cloud of seagulls hovering hopefully above the ROK flag that fluttered fanatically at the aft, 240 Koreans spilled onto the decks armed with cameras and mobile phones, the backdrop to their viewfinders two fortress-like rocks rising abruptly out of the ocean as they have done for the best part of 3 million years.
There’s not a Japanese visitor in sight. Local authorities report that around 500,000 people have visited the islands since the ferry services started in 2005, but Japanese nationals account for less than 5 percent of that total.
“Actually, I wish more Japanese would come,” said Hee-sung Pak, a Seoul-based IT engineer. “I want them to see how Korean Dokdo really is, that it is ours so let’s not fight about it.”
The boat trip involves a refuel stopover at Ulluengdo, a bigger, more hospitable island about 90 km west of the Liancourts. Killing time around the colorful dockside fish market, I notice an elderly man in baseball cap, baggy jeans and a white T-shirt on which is printed in English and Japanese “Dokdo is Korean Territory.”
“I give these to any Japanese visitors that come this way,” says Sung kyu-lim, who runs a souvenir shop on the island. “I don’t want to agitate, just educate. You can see Dokdo from here when the weather is clear. It’s our back yard.”
Located virtually equidistant from the mainlands of each country, exactly whose back yard the islands belong to has served as a sticking point in relations between the northeast Asian neighbors for over 60 years.
Researchers and scholars invariably turn to maps and historical tomes to back up their territorial claims, although counter claims and historical ambiguity invariably cloud the issue further.
Take, for instance, the Paldochongdo (Map of Korea) penned in 1531, which indicates the Liancourts as ROK territory. Yet, according to the map they lie due west of Ulleungdo and as a single island of roughly equal size, when in fact they are located 90 km to the east and, even collectively, are significantly smaller.
Then there’s the Dainihon Zenzu (Complete Map of Japan) produced in 1877 by Japan’s Military Affairs Bureau, which makes no mention of the Liancourts, or the official Shimane Prefectural map dated 1929 that also omits the islands, even though Japan officially incorporated them into Shimane in 1905.
“Even officially published documents didn’t include the islands, which is proof Japan didn’t regard them as belonging to them whatsoever,” says Shin Yeon-sung, secretary general of the Northeast Asian History Foundation, a research center in Seoul partly funded by the ROK government.
A Japan foreign ministry communique on the issue, titled “10 Issues of Takeshima,” doesn’t mention the two maps, but attempts to counter ROK’s assertion that Japan made no claims to the islands prior to 1905, when Japan incorporated them on the still contested grounds that they had been terra nullius under international law.
Records show, it states, that Japan “established sovereignty over the islands in the mid-17th century at the very latest” and Japanese fishing vessels made Shogunate-sanctioned visits to the islands before and after 1653, the year Japan declared its “sakoku” policy barring foreign entry and Japanese departure from the country.
South Korea counters that historical documents place the islands as part of the Silla Dynasty in AD511, and, that notwithstanding, were among the colonized territories that according to the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which Japan signed in 1951, were supposed to be repatriated after World War II.
In fact they were, albeit temporarily. The earliest drafts of the treaty confirmed Korea’s sovereignty of the isles, but by the 6th draft they were Japan’s until being returned to Korea again in the 7th. Later drafts omitted mention of the Liancourt Rocks altogether, thereby sowing the seeds of discord between the northeast Asian neighbors.
Despite subsequent U.S. memos indicating the islands should be considered Japanese territory, Seoul took control of them in 1954, and has stationed security personel there since, a fait accompli that Japan has challenged and countered with overtures of peaceful resolution through the international courts in The Hague.
South Korea, however, has refused to comply, simply because, as Seoul National University professor Min Gyo Koo explains, as far as the ROK government is concerned, there is no legal issue to resolve.
“The official view is South Korea cannot negotiate because it has no territorial dispute with Japan, which is exactly how Japan treats China with regards to the Senkaku Islands dispute,” says Koo, a specialist in northeast Asia disputes and regionalism “South Koreans and other nations that experienced colonialism for decades, even centuries are still obsessed with national sovereignty. We still have this sense of victimization.”
According to Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Hidenobu Sobashima, Japan’s position “remains unchanged” with regards to what is referred to in the ministry’s official statement as South Korea’s “illegal occupation of Takeshima” and its claim that the islands are “an inherent territory of Japan in light of historical facts and based on international law.”
This apparent Catch 22 situation makes any bilateral solution unlikely, says Koo, meaning a minilateral framework, such as the Six Party Talks, is required “to collectively but incrementally deal” with disputes in the region.
“Otherwise, we must hope there are no diplomatic spats between the two countries in the next 10 years. Maybe then we can talk about the next step,” he adds.
It seems a small asking price, yet tempers have tended to flare more regularly. In 2005, Shimane Prefecture ignored foreign ministry recommendations and declared Feb. 22 “Takeshima Day,” causing demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul during which two Korean nationals sliced off their fingers in protest.
Six years on and Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Shu Watanabe last month vowed to attend next week’s celebrations in Shimane, a move that some believe will trigger the kind of diplomatic spat that followed Japan’s inclusion of the islands in an educational publication in 2008.
Yet, it is Korea that has been more effective in raising positive awareness of the issue, instigating a plethora of pro-Dokdo, anti-Takeshima websites and infiltrating public conscience through “Dokdo is Korean Territory” posters, drinks and video games, says Masao Shimojo of Takushoku University, whose published works include “Is Takeshima Japan’s or Korea’s?”
“In Japan, unlike Korea, territorial issues are local government concerns, not national ones and there is no unified voice communicating the ROK’s erroneous historical arguments,” says Shimojo, adding that Takeshima Day was inaugurated partly because Shimane felt the national government was not doing enough to raise awareness of the issue here.
“Korea has been skillful in lobbying support, both domestically and internationally, but self-seeking politicians in Japan whose only concern is winning the next election are largely responsible for Koreans spouting off ‘Takeshima is Korean territory’ slogans. I doubt they know the historical facts either.”
This keener awareness of the issue among Koreans is a key reason why Japan should abandon its territorial claims, says Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
“The only scenario for a peaceful solution is for Japan to renounce all claims. To do so would improve bilateral relations historically. Not doing so would simply prove Japan is deaf to its colonial legacy. Korea is never going to budge on this issue. It means too much to them.”
Back aboard the ferry to the islands, this sentiment is plain to see. As the captain announces the news everyone dreaded, that the waters are too choppy to risk going ashore, groans of disappointment are tempered by another announcement that we will do a circle of the islands. Visible just 60 meters away on the east island, Dongdo, is the concrete wharf, a lighthouse, manned by ROK maritime officials, and helicopter pad while clinging to the coastal extreme of the west island, Seodo, is he home of Mr. and Mrs Kim, the islands’ only residents.
Or so I thought. According to passenger Pak more than 2,000 Koreans have moved their permanent addresses here through the National Dokdo Permanent Registration Movement and as of last April all day trippers are eligible for honorary citizenship. “We like our Dokdo,” he says with a smile. “And we plan to keep it.”