중앙데일리

Photos back Korean Dokdo claims

July 22,2008
Kim Chul-hwan, an official at the Ulleung County Office, yesterday released this photo of Dokdo that he took from Ulleung Island on a clear day using a standard lens. [YONHAP]
Koreans have long shown intense anger towards Japan whenever it makes a claim over Dokdo, the tiny islets in the East Sea that are occupied by Korea. To the Japanese, Dokdo is Takeshima and the waters around it the Sea of Japan.

But many experts here have said that what the country needs is not another round of angry protests in front of the Japanese Embassy, but a systematic effort to find more historical records and scientific evidence that Dokdo is indeed part of Korea.

As if on cue, several scholars in both Korea and Japan recently announced discoveries that appear to bolster Korea’s assertion of sovereignty over Dokdo.

Choi Suh-myun, a local historian on Dokdo and a professor at Myungji University, disclosed photos of Dokdo taken from Ulleung Island, a Korean island about 87.4 kilometers (47 miles) west of Dokdo.

Taken with a 200 millimeter camera lens, the photos show a clear view of Dokdo in morning light. At the corner of the pictures are pine trees of the Ulleung Island hill where the photographer was standing when he took the shot.

That finding may mean little to those unfamiliar with the decades-long debate over Korea’s claimed sovereignty over Dokdo, but being able to see the islets from known Korean territory could be essential.

It could verify ancient records that suggest Dokdo was long considered Korean.

The issue goes back to books and government records written during the Joseon Dynasty, including “Geography of the Sejong-Sillok,” written in 1454, and “Geography of Goryeo History,” written in 1451.

The documents include phrases that people “could see Dokdo from Ulleung Island on a clear day.”

Many Japanese historians have claimed the phrases are falsified, saying that because of the earth’s curvature, Dokdo is never visible from Ulleung Island even on a clear day.

For example, Kenzo Kawakami, a former Japanese diplomat, claimed in 1966 that human eyes can see Dokdo, about 174 meters high, only within 59 kilometers of the islets.

He wrote at length, detailing his calculations of the earth’s curvature and how far one can see.

Kawakami’s study has become something of a bible that has been repeatedly cited by Japanese historians who argue that Dokdo is Japanese territory and Korea’s ancient records that mentioned Dokdo lack credibility.

But Choi’s photos show that Dokdo is visible from Ulleung Island and the country’s ancient records on Dokdo are correct.

“We tried this photo shoot since Japan kept denying our ancient documentation that one can see Dokdo from Ulleung Island on a bright day,” said Choi.

Choi was not the first to try to take photos of Dokdo. But the sea between Dokdo and Ulleung Island is often fog-covered, making it difficult to make out Dokdo.

Meanwhile, Lee Han-ki, an international law expert who wrote a book called “Korean Territory,” also claimed that one can view Dokdo from Ulleung Island when standing at 160 meters above sea level.

Kim Chul-hwan, an Ulleung County official, also released photos yesterday taken of Dokdo from

Ulleung Island that were taken without a telephoto lens. It was clearly visible.

So far, no historian has found ancient records that mention Dokdo being spotted from Japanese land. The closest Japanese territory to Dokdo is an island called Oki, which is 161 kilometers away from the disputed islets.

But it is not only Korean historians who say that Korea has a valid claim on Dokdo. A Japanese researcher recently argued that Dokdo had belonged to Korea even before the 1910-45 Japanese occupation during which Japanese forces controlled the islets.

When Japan lost the Second World War, Tokyo was ordered to return all lands that it had colonized. In Dokdo’s case, the story got complicated. Tokyo argued the islets had long been unoccupied until it colonized Korea, saying that thus the islets belong to Japan and that Korea has no rightful claim over the territory.

Seitsu Naito, an emeritus professor at Shimane University, is one Japanese historian who has argued that Japanese government officials were long aware that the islets belonged to Korea before Japan occupied the islets during its occupation of Korea.

In a 2006 book, Naito gave a detailed description of how the Japanese government tried to integrate Dokdo into its territory in 1905, five years before the occupation of Korea began.

According to the book, a Japanese fisherman named Yosaburo Nakai, hoping to monopolize the sea lion hunting rights around Dokdo, filed several petitions with various government agencies in 1904 to lease the islets.

The Japanese Interior Ministry, however, rejected the petition, saying, “taking the islets suspected to belong to Korea will give the impression to many foreign countries that we plan to colonize Korea.”

However, the Foreign Ministry thought differently. Enjiro Yamaja, a senior ministry official, said the political situation “displays an urgent need to incorporate the property [Dokdo].”

Yamaja stressed Japan could use Dokdo as a military outpost to monitor movements of Russian sea vessels from Vladivostok. Tensions between the two countries were growing and the Russo-Japanese War would break out within a year.

Naito argues that Yamaja knew the islets belonged to Korea. Yamaja wrote a preface for the Japanese government’s 1904 book on Korea’s commercial and industrial activities, which clearly identified the Liancourt Rocks, a term referring to Dokdo, as a part of Gangwon Province of Korea, along with Ulleung Island.

A Japanese senior naval officer, Genko Kimosuke, who concluded that Dokdo was an unoccupied property when Nakai filed his petition, was also likely aware that the islets were Korean. For instance, Genko’s navy department published a book in 1899 about Korea’s water and fishery resources, including Dokdo.

But the book on Japan’s water and fishery resources, published in 1902 by the same department, did not identify the islets at all.

These findings may contradict Japan’s claim that Dokdo had belonged to no one before Japan took control of the islets in the early 20th century.

To Naito, the case is clear:

“When the Japanese government departments decided to integrate Dokdo into Japanese territory, they said there is no ‘trace’ of occupation of the islets by other countries, but it is a very lopsided argument,” he said in a phone interview with JoongAng Ilbo on July 16.

“Their argument cannot be correct given the facts [I found].”


By Ye Young-joon JoongAng Ilbo
/ Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]



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