The case for Korean ownership of Dokdo
I have to admit, this is a post that I have been avoiding for quite a long time. When I was the Seoul Searcher, basically a mouthpiece for a Korean governmental organization, I decided it would be best to avoid the subject entirely because the point of the project I was involved in was not to stir up controversy regarding Korea’s international relations. You can see that starting in 2011, this blog went through a drastic change and I started to write about what I like, mainly complaining about things and discussing nerdy things that I like.
That said, I wrote a post criticizing several videos that were meant to promote the idea that Dokdo belongs to Korea, and it proved to be a hit with several people on the Japanese side of the argument, including a Japanese nationalist website that linked to me. One of the people who visited my blog asked me to present my case for Korean ownership of Dokdo.
I’d like to know why you believe Dokdo is Korean territory. Korean government has been fabricating evidences from the beginning and brainwashing their people with nationalistic song while Japan has established evidences like documents, archaic maps, official statement and international treaty.
I am an admin on the facebook group “Dokdo Belongs to Korea.” When I first joined the group, it was very disorganized, and although its stated purpose was to encourage discussion and debate about Dokdo, it appeared to be overrun with people who just wanted to shout that Dokdo is Korean, or who thought it was a place that racism towards Japanese was appropriate. Since becoming an admin, I and the other admins have done our part to try to clean it up and to encourage actual debate. One of the reasons I wanted to do this is because there are far too many people on the Korean side of the argument who don’t even really know why Dokdo belongs to Korea. You’ll find reasons ranging from
“It’s Korea’s because it’s Korea’s.”
“It’s Korea’s because the Japanese did so many evil things to us when we were their colony.”
“It’s Korea’s because the Japanese call it Takeshima which means bamboo island and there is no bamboo there!”
“It’s Korea’s because the US Army said it was after World War II”
or my favorite
“Shut up, I don’t have to prove anything to you because you are not Korean and can’t understand Korean feeling. You should stop bothering us.”
So, I am writing this post because I want to lead by example. I will attempt to analyze the government sponsored Japanese arguments for Japanese ownership, then state my case for Korean ownership. I want this area to be used for constructive debate on the subject. I would hope that anyone who chooses to comment on this post be respectful to other commenters, myself, and to refrain from racist remarks.
And to the Japanese following that I seem to have amassed in the past few days:
I am sure there are a few errors up there, but I’ve not used Japanese in quite a while, so sorry for that.
At any rate, I’ll get started on presenting the case after the jump.
All right, well you made it this far. I will start by assuming that if you don’t know about the Dokdo Takeshima dispute, then you will probably be lost in the rest of this post. Please read the wikipedia article for some background information. (The article is always changing so take almost everything that asserts a claim for either side with a grain of salt.)
I want to make this as simple and concise as possible. Both sides, Korea and Japan have government sanctioned arguments, and both arguments are mostly filled with facts that are largely irrelevant. In today’s world, all that matters is international law. It is for this reason that the following ways to prove ownership over the land are irrelevant.
1. Old maps of either Korea or Japan that purport to depict Dokdo- A map by itself is no way to prove sovereignty.
2. Old documents that purport to prove a claim of sovereignty – these are okay, but on both sides, the documents seldom make it clear as to which island they are discussing and can be interpreted differently. The document must be clear that it discusses Dokdo by itself, or by comparing it with other contemporary documents or maps.
3. Claims in ancient history – These are largely irrelevant because the state (if you can call it that) that claimed it may no longer exist, or may have lost the territory since. For example, simply because Koguryo once controlled territory in what is now Manchuria, it does not prove that Manchuria is the rightful territory of North Korea.
With that, I will start presenting the case.
First, I will examine the Japanese argument as presented on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.The website contains a PDF called “10 Issues of Takeshima.” I will go through all of the 10 issues.
Issue 1 – Japan has long recognized the existence of Takeshima.
Does recognition of existence prove ownership? No. The United States recognizes the existence of Japan. Does that mean it is American? No. All it means is that they know it exists. This point is therefore irrelevant. Of special note in this section is Japan’s assertion that the former name of what is now Takeshima was once known as “Matsushima”. Why is this important? I’ll show you later.
Issue 2 – There is no evidence that Korea has long recognized the existence of Takeshima.
This is an attempt to assert that “We (Japan) knew about it first, therefore it is ours.” As shown above though, this is irrelevant, if not false.
This section of the pamphlet attacks the Korean argument pointing out faults in Korean maps and historical documents. It is my belief that these attacks are logical and this is probably the weakest part of the Korean argument. On maps that Korea claims to show Dokdo, it is often too big, in the wrong location, or both.
This section also attacks Korea’s assertion that the name of Dokdo was Usando. It is well known that Usando was a poetic name for Ulleungdo, and that there was a time when people thought that there were two Ulleungdo sized islands in the East Sea (This is the first time I have used that term. There is another raging debate over the name of the sea. I won’t cover any of that argument here.) There is no evidence that Dokdo was ever called Usando, so in this respect the Japanese argment is doing well by pointing out holes in the Korean argument.
Even so, the claim that Koreans did not know about Dokdo in the past is ludicrous.
Dokdo can be seen from certain high points of Ulleungdo with the naked eye when the weather conditions are ideal. The Korean argument loves to overemphasize this because it basically tears a huge gaping hole in Japan’s argument. The Japanese side comes back with the relatively weak counter that the point at which Dokdo is observable from Ulleungdo was once covered in thick vegetation and requires binoculars or zoom lenses to be seen clearly, and that to be able to see it with the naked eye, one would have to be looking for it. Even if that is true, (which it isn’t) the idea that Koreans can be aware of Ulleungdo without knowing of the existence of Dokdo is silly.
Come on Japan, you can do better than that. You mean to tell me that the Koreans who got on boats from the Korean peninsula, traveled all the way to Ulleungdo, subdued and conquered the kingdom on Ulleungdo (meaning their sailing skills were enough to transport a sizable army), continued to sail back and forth from Ulleungdo, and engaged in economic activities (such as fishing) around Ulleungdo, but they were incapable of finding Dokdo?
DOKDO IS CLOSER TO ULLEUNGDO THAN THE KOREAN PENINSULA IS!
What, were there magical tsunamis preventing them from sailing further east to investigate the land seaworthy people should be able to stumble upon by accident? Did they just decide to stop at Ulleungdo and not investigate any further? To claim that they were incapable of knowing its existence is ridiculous.
Even though that’s faulty logic on Japan’s side, let’s say I concede the point. Even if I agree, this point is irrelevant because as stated above, knowing of the existence of something does not prove ownership.
Issues 3, and 4 try to show Japan’s declaration of sovereignty as early as the 17th century, by showing in point 3 that several Japanese clans asked permission from the Shogunate to travel to Ulleungdo, using Dokdo as a stopover point. Point 4 shows that the Shogunate recognized Korean ownership of Ulleungdo, preventing its people from traveling there, but mentions that Dokdo was not mentioned in these negotiations.
Again, besides all of this being irrelevant, as using it as a stopover point to a territory that isn’t yours does not prove ownership, it is disingenuous to suggest that simply because Dokdo was not mentioned in the treaty that it is a declaration that the territory is Japanese. What happened is that the families who used Dokdo as a stopover were more interested in the fishing areas around Ulleungdo. After this treaty affirmed Korean ownership of Ulleungdo, their business collapsed, meaning they found no use for Dokdo itself other than as a road to Ulleungdo, which was clearly not Japanese.
Issue 5 details the Ahn Young Bok incident. Korea uses this to prove that Dokdo was theirs relying on Ahn’s testimony and confusion over the names of islands. Korea naturally interprets these in a manner that is advantageous to the Korean position. Japan asserts that Korea is misinterpreting what Ahn said. Even if Japan is right, this does not prove that Japan owns Dokdo. It only proves that there are holes in the Korean argument caused by ambiguity (which there are).
Issue 6 is important, and very very relevant, however, the way it is presented here is revisionist history. It says that “Japan reaffirmed its intention to claim sovereignty over Takeshima by incorporating Takeshima into Shimane Prefecture in 1905.”
A cruicial piece of missing info from this is the name of the document that is pictured on the pamphlet and what it says. Don’t worry Japan, I’ll do your work for you. Here is a synopsis of what that document says, from a Japanese Harvard graduate’s and journalist’s academic paper.
The second fact, and Japan’s fundamental legal claim to Takeshima/Dokdo, stems from
February 22, 1905, when the government of Shimane Prefecture issued Notification Decree
Number 40, which renamed the Liancourt Rocks as Takeshima and placed them under the
administrative control of the local authorities in the Oki Islands. The Prefecture’s decree was
based on the January 28, 1905 Decision of Parliament concerning the territorial incorporation of
Liancourt Island, which was claimed to be res nullius, uninhabited land exhibiting no evidence
of being in the possession of any other country. The Japanese government claims that the Korean
government did not oppose the incorporation at that time.
This is the the reason Japan claims that Takeshima belongs to Japan on the basis of international law. Japan believed it was uninhabited land that did not belong to another country, and Japan now claims that the Korean government did not oppose the incorporation.
The first point, that the Japanese claim that it is uninhabited land only establishes that Japan did not consider Dokdo part of its territory before 1905. This makes issue 3 and 4 of this pamphlet, any other claim that precedes 1905, or any attempt to construe usage of Dokdo by Japanese people as an establishment of sovereignty, irrelevant. In addition, they are clearly lies, as Japan can’t claim they established sovereignty in the 17th century AND that it was unclaimed land in 1905.
The second point, that the Korean government did not oppose the incorporation… ha, I can only laugh.
First of all, nowhere does it say that the Japanese government informed the Korean government, so it is very possible that this unilateral action was not even known in Korea.
Second, something else very important was happening in Korea in 1905. This is the year that the Eulsa treaty, making Korea a protectorate of Japan and depriving Korea of self determination was signed. While it is true that this treaty was signed 10 months after Notification Decree #40, Japan had a strong presence in Korea during and after the Russo-Japanese war (Feb 1904 – Sep 1905). Even if Notification Decree #40 had been reported directly to the Korean government, Korea was in no position to oppose, as it was in effect under Japanese control. To say that the Korean government did not protest is insulting.
To use an analogy, if I hold a gun to your head and say that your car belongs to me, can I use that as a legal basis for ownership of your car? No. The idea makes no sense.
All that aside, Japan needs to prove that Korea did not claim Dokdo as its territory before 1905 if Japan wants to use this point. I will revisit this claim later.
Issue 7 claims that the US rejected Korea’s request to include Dokdo as Korean territory under the terms of the San Francisco peace treaty. The treaty reads as follows:
The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in September 1951, stipulates that “Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart , Port Hamilton and Dagelet.
(Quelpart is Jejudo, Port Hamilton is Geomundo, and Dagelet is Ulleungdo)
Edit: Yes, you nationalists, I am aware that Korea tried to petition the U.S. to include Dokdo in its definition of territory in the San Francisco treaty and that the U.S. refused, saying that they thought it had been administered by Japan since 1905. Hoping that Japan and Korea could resolve the issue themselves, the US decided not to mention Dokdo at all, and to this day takes no official position on the issue. Back to the argument over the wording of the treaty….
This proves nothing other than the U.S. view that Dokdo was insignificant. If in fact it can be proven that Korea claimed Dokdo before 1905 (which it can), then Japan, per this treaty must relinquish its claim as it is covered by the statement ““Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea.” Simply because Dokdo is not mentioned does not mean that it is still Japanese territory. There is also no mention of Jindo, Wolmido, Kanghwado or any of the other 3000 islands surrounding the Korean peninsula.
Furthermore, Japan should be careful when deferring to the US. Let’s look at the following map:
One can see that this map, made by SCAP clearly has Dokdo in the zone of jurisdiction of the US Army in Korea. Also of note is that the Ryukyu islands are not within Japanese territory, nor are the Northern Territories. Japan claims that this SCAP map can’t be relied upon to establish national boundaries, as a map does not constitute a peace treaty. I’d like to take that one step further. The U.S. should have no determination over Japan’s borders whatsoever. Those should be defined by Japan and whatever parties lie on the other side of its borders.
But if Japan wants to use the argument of U.S. support after WWII, then they should also include those U.S. policy decisions that appear to support Korean ownership as well. One cannot show only the pro-Japanese US decisions while hiding all the pro-Korean ones. In other words, Japan can not use the wording of the treaty to suggest U.S. support while not talking about the map I have shown and other documents.
Furthermore, as the U.S. takes no official position on the Dokdo dispute, we can only assume that any previous American support for either side is irrelevant.
Issue 8 is another attempt at suggesting that the U.S. recognizes that Dokdo belongs to Japan by showing that the U.S. asked Japan permission to use Dokdo as a bombing range. Several Koreans who were not given warning ended up dying in the training exercises, which indicates that the Korean government was not consulted, thereby showing that the U.S. thought of Dokdo as a Japanese posession.
Omitted is the fact that the U.S. also asked Korea for permission to do the same thing at later dates.
Even so, as stated previously, the U.S. takes no official position, so this issue is irrelevant. Also it bolsters the claim for Korean ownership because the Koreans who were killed thought it was part of their own country that they could use for fishing purposes.
Issue 9 says that Korea is illegally occupying Dokdo. This isn’t evidence but restating of Japan’s position. (What I mean is that there is nothing to refute. There was a Rhee line, and Japanese fishermen beyond the Rhee line were detained.)
Issue 10 criticizes Korea for not willing to take the issue to the ICJ. Simply because Korea does not want to go to the ICJ is not proof that Japan owns Dokdo, or that Korea believes that they will lose any such case. Korea does not need to go because it has its military there and has built lots of stuff there and posession is 9/10 of the law.
Also, what does Korea have to gain by going to court? Nothing. Korea already holds Dokdo. What does Japan have to gain? Dokdo! Japan currently does not have Dokdo.
Similarly we can ask what the risk of going to court for both countries is. What do they have to lose?
Japan has nothing to lose, as if the court rules in Korea’s favor, the status quo remains. Korea on the other hand has Dokdo to lose.
To use another analogy, if you try to take me to court to prove that my car is yours, but I have the means to prevent you from taking my car, and going to court is voluntary on my part, why would I go to court? I already have my car! Why would I risk losing it if I can easily keep you away?
I think Korea could win in court if Korea ever decides to take it to the ICJ, but why bother? Going to court is an admission that there is a possibility that Japan is right.
So, in summary, the only relevant issue of these 10 is issue 6. Japan only needs to prove that Korea did not consider Dokdo as Korean territory before 1905, and Korea only needs to prove that it did.
I will not examine the Korean government’s counter pamphlet on Dokdo because they are equally filled with a lot of irrelevant information. (Although I must say that I am impressed with the updated version of it, as what they were trotting out before touted maps and documents as the main pieces of evidence without fully explaining other possible interpretations.) Futhermore, I think it is much more effective to prove Korean ownership of Dokdo using only Japanese sources, which I will do below.
The Korean case for ownership of Dokdo
There is a huge problem in the Korean side, that is, there is no consensus as to what the points of argument are, often facts are either false, misconstrued, or misinterpreted, and there is far too much emotion and not enough logic. However, it is possible to prove that Korea did consider Dokdo part of its territory before 1905, making Japan’s argument that it established ownership of Dokdo in 1905 false.
Japan in 1905 claimed that Notification Decree Number 40 incorporated Dokdo, a res nullius into Shimane prefecture. (See issue 6)
The former Japanese name for Dokdo is Matsushima (See issue 1).
This document, a report made by the Japanese Dajoukan, made in 1877, states that Takeshima (Ulleungdo) and Matsushima (Dokdo) are the territory of Korea.
A translation of these documents can be found here.
The documents show that
A. Takeshima (Ulleungdo) and another island are Korean territory.
B. The other island is Matsushima.
C. The detailed location of Matsushima cooresponds with Dokdo’s location.
A common Japanese rebuttal of this evidence is that the Matsushima listed in the document is not in fact Dokdo, but a phantom Ulleungdo, as there was a prevailing belief that two Ulleungdo sized islands were in the East Sea due to some cartographic errors made by Western mappers.
But, as established before in issue 1 of Japan’s 10 issues, Dokdo was once called Matsushima. While there is still room for confusion due to this evidence of mistaken names and map errors, the 1877 document describes Matsushima in the accurate location of Dokdo.
Even if we omit this overwhelming evidence, we need clear evidence that Japan in 1877 called Dokdo “Matsushima”. That evidence also exists, in a Japanese map created in 1877, 磯竹島略圖.
(I realize that it my image file may be difficult to read. A larger size PDF of this image can be found here.)
So, it is clear that Japan itself considered Dokdo as Korean territory in 1877. It was therefore already claimed by Korea in 1905, when Japan in Notification Decree #40 stated that it was uninhabited land and that no evidence existed to suggest that it belonged to another country. As it belonged to Korea before 1905, Notification Decree #40, which is the basis of Japan’s claim, is false.
This is why I believe Dokdo belongs to Korea. Naysayers can trot out any map or document from ages past or try to establish ownership through usage before 1905, or cite the opinion of the post war U.S. As demonstrated, all are irrelevant.
And now for some criticism of Korea. Get your argument straight. Find the flaw in Japan’s argument and go for the jugular. Don’t use emotional sentiment, or shady map evidence in your argument. I have established what you need to do (prove Korean ownership before 1905). Do it! Teach it to children in your schools instead of teaching them that ridiculous Dokdo Song. If you continue to react irrationally towards a problem that requires logical understanding, then nobody will take you seriously. You are doing your people a disservice by not correctly teaching the way to argue for Korean sovereignty. Japanese people who argue for Japanese ownership of Takeshima are almost always armed with a logical argument, as most Japanese are apathetic about it, but the ones who care actually research the problem. Koreans on the other hand all care about it, but few can explain clearly why they think it belongs to Korea.
Rebuttals of this argument are welcome, but I must reiterate that I want healthy debate, not shouting or racist attacks.
This work may be used as a source, but I want to be notified by people who decide to use it.
Thanks to all who read it all the way through.