Japan's Dokdo Claim Spread Widely
Shimane Prefecture's legislation touches off public outcry from Korea
Protests over Japan's claim to the East Sea islets of Dokdo are spreading rapidly across the nation with no signs of abating. Some people began to take collective action to claim Korea's sovereignty over Tsushima Island, located between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as a backfire against Japan's such undiplomatic offense.
The proponents for the drive cite the fact the Tsushima Island once belonged to the nation's territory during the Chosun Kingdom.
Ranking officials, police and lawmakers have rushed to visit Dokdo, the nation's easternmost islets in the East Sea, since the government decided to ease travel restrictions on March 16. The Cultural Heritage Administration decided to allow a maximum of 140 visitors a day to the tiny volcanic outcroppings, 87 kilometers east of Ullung Island, for environmental and security reasons.
The decision came shortly after Japan's Shimane Prefectural Council voted to designate Feb. 22 "Takeshima Day" in an attempt to claim sovereignty over the islets. Huh Joon-young, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, visited the islets together with Cultural Heritage Administration head Yoo Hong-joon on Saturday.
The administration designated Dokdo as Natural Monument No. 336 in 1982. Huh, the first chief of South Korean police to visit the islets, arrived by police helicopter at 11:30 a.m., presenting flowers at a monument for police officers who died on the islets.
The Seoul government's "new doctrine" for the Korea-Japan relationship announced March 17 reflects only part of the sizzling Korean sentiments over Tokyo's diplomatic challenge. It expressed strong displeasure and determination but fell short of mentioning any immediate governmental action, leaving it dependent on Japan's future moves. Such prudence is natural and necessary, considering the government's role is not agitating but calming the public. Whether the self-restraining tactic would work on Tokyo let alone the ultra-rightist Japanese is anyone's guess.
Nor could Seoul go much further than that and abruptly turn its "quiet diplomacy" into a noisy one, as shown by President Roh Moo-hyun's prolonged silence on the issue. The president is reportedly enraged by what he sees as Japan's betrayal of his generous proposal to bury the past and move toward the future. We just hope that Roh has learned a valuable diplomatic lesson that unilateral goodwill does not always pay. Also, a head of state should be the last -not the first- to speak in diplomacy.
It is almost unnecessary to reiterate here the numerous historical and legal reasoning to refute Japan's claims for Dokdo. And the Japanese conservatives' attempt to justify its militarist past can be no more than a laughing stock among international intellectuals with conscience. Sadly, power still seems to prevail over the truth in international politics, even in the 21st century. Persistent Japanese propaganda has also attained considerable results among ordinary Westerners, oblivious to the suffering inflicted on East Asians by Japan in the last century.
So, the government's decision to squarely cope with Tokyo on the international diplomatic stage is a move toward the right direction. Past experiences, however, show this was easier said than done. Like it or not, Koreans have to acknowledge our own forgetfulness once the temporary passion is over. Japanese right-wingers might have taken even this into account. The government could start with reviving national history as a compulsory subject. Calm calculation should replace emotional outbursts, which serve no one but Japanese counter-propagandists.
The four-principle, five-countermeasure doctrine reiterates Seoul's decades-old calls for Japan to genuinely atone for its historical wrongdoings and seek its neighbors' forgiveness. If that were easy, no such diplomatic troubles would have occurred. The government's conclusion that Japan's territorial claim over Dokdo is the second pillage of Korea is salient given Tokyo's efforts to justify its history of aggression. Still, Korea needs to differentiate ordinary, conscientious Japanese from some unrepentant groups and include the former in international efforts for attaining peaceful co-prosperity in East Asia.
This will require enormous amount of diplomatic determination and skill but Seoul has no other way as the country cannot move to a new location, however unpleasant its neighbor is. Seoul has warned Japan against challenging South Korea's territorial sovereignty or distorting history, saying such moves are tantamount to "justifying its past invasion of the Korean Peninsula and its past wrongdoings."
It issued the warning on Thursday in a press conference held right after a standing committee session of the National Security Council (NSC). The meeting was convened a day after a provincial council in Japan approved a controversial ordinance in a move to lay claim to the Dokdo Islets.
In the press conference, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, concurrently NSC standing committee chairman said the government will support South Korea's demands for compensation from Japan for its actions during World War II.
The minister outlined four principles and five directions for relations between South Korea and Japan. "Japan's recent behavior leads us to believe that Tokyo is trying to take back its past apologies," Chung said. "It is unfortunate that Japan is stepping backward while Seoul is trying to build a future-oriented relationship with Tokyo."
President Roh Moo-hyun did not attend the NSC meeting. But he delivered a strong message to the NSC that Seoul should sternly deal with Japan's attempts to distort history and harm Korea's territorial integrity, Chong Wa Dae officials said. Those include South Korean A-bomb victims and women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. So far, Seoul's official position has been similar to that of Japan that the compensation issue was settled by the treaty, in which Japan provided $800 million in grants and loans to South Korea. Upon Japan's efforts to gain a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, Chung said Tokyo should first try to win the trust of its neighboring countries.
Chung said the government does not want to damage the Seoul-Tokyo relationship even though Japan is attempting to raise diplomatic tension. "Despite Japan's retrogressive attitudes, we don't want to damage the relationship between the two countries," Chung said. "We will continue economic, cultural and personnel exchanges with Japan." Shimane Prefecture Council in Japan approved Wednesday a measure making Feb. 22 "Takeshima Day" to commemorate Japan's claim of sovereignty.
Dokdo, called Takeshima in Japanese, is a group of volcanic islets located some 87 kilometers east of Ullung Island of South Korea and 157 kilometers northwest of the Japanese island of Oki, which belongs to Shimane Prefecture.
As the issue of sovereignty has intensified, many South Koreans have demanded the government summon Seoul's envoy to Tokyo and dispatch marines to safeguard the islets. The government has not resorted to such drastic measures. But Chung's statement shows a clear shift from Seoul's "low-key" attitude toward Japan.
"The government has tried to make the two countries' relationship better with goodwill," a government official said on condition of anonymity. "But changing our policies is inevitable now as Japan is irritating us by infringing on our sovereignty." Government officials made it clear that Dokdo is not a subject for negotiation with Japan, saying Shimane's passage of the ordinance bill does not affect the legal status of the islets internationally.
Seoul plans to examine follow-up measures, including a budget increase to reinforce the defense of Dokdo and improve a pier for boat access as many Korean tourists are expected to visit the group of islets. As part of efforts to strengthen its effective dominion over Dokdo, Seoul decided Wednesday to ease the current regulations restricting tourists from entering the rocky, virtually uninhabited islets.
South Korea designated Dokdo as National Monument No. 336 to protect the environment and limited visits for safety concerns. Only about 1,500 visitors were allowed to visit last year, a maximum of 70 a day. Japan's provocative move on Dokdo, coupled with a history dispute over a Japanese schoolbook that justified Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, touched off diplomatic tensions between the two neighbors in recent weeks.
Forty years have passed since South Korea normalized diplomatic relations with Japan, but many Koreans still harbor deep suspicion and even enmity toward their former colonial ruler. The two sides designated 2005 as the "Korea-Japan Friendship Year" to mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. nw