[FOUNTAIN]Tokto dispute was decided 300 years ago“It’s natural that the person who takes over an ownerless island can have it,” said the ruler of Japan’s Hoki region, today’s Tottori Prefecture. “Then can I take one of the deserted islands off the coast of Japan and start a dispute?” replied An Yong-bok. This exchange is from a scene in Kim Lae-ju’s novel “The Great Joseon Man An Yong-bok” in which the two men negotiate the ownership of Ulleung and Tokto islands.
Along with Ulleung, Tokto became a Silla tributary during the reign of King Jijeung, and was part of Goryeo territory under King Hyeonjong. But King Taejong of the Joseon Dynasty moved its population to the mainland in order to empty the islands. This became grounds for Japan’s insistence that, in claiming Tokto, it had occupied an ownerless island.
Mr. An was a hero who refuted Japan’s claim based on historical records, and obtained a letter from the Tokugawa shogunate acknowledging that the islands were Joseon’s. A monument to “General An’s” accomplishment has been erected in Do-dong on Ulleung island. But records show that Mr. An was not a general, but a servant.
Reportedly, Mr. An was captured in 1693 while harvesting abalone on Ulleung Island and taken to Japan. In the novel, Mr. An, furious that Japanese fishermen frequent the waters of Ulleung and Tokto, is taken to Japan when he brings people together to defend the islands. The incident is the first recorded dispute between Korea and Japan over the islands. The letter Mr. An secured from the shogunate was stolen by the ruler of Tsushima during Mr. An’s return to Korea. Three years later, Mr. An went back to Japan, pretending to be the tax officer of Ulleung and Tokto, a post that did not exist. He again obtained a letter from the shogunate ―the oldest official Japanese acknowledgement that Tokto is Korean. But upon returning, he was punished for posing as a government official.
According to a paper published last year by Seichu Naito, honorary professor at Shimane College, Japan has twice acknowledged that it did not own Tokto; once was in the letter obtained by Mr. An. Still, the Simane Prefecture and Japan’s ambassador to Korea both recently claimed Tokto as Japanese, under the name Takeshima. It is a shame that we have failed to defend Mr. An’s achievement of more than three centuries ago.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.