[EDITORIALS]‘Silent diplomacy’ over ToktoThe minister of foreign affairs has clarified that the Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement and Korea’s territorial rights over the Tokto islands are separate issues. The minister of marine affairs and fisheries has also made it clear that the government has no plan to abrogate the fisheries agreement. They are the right decisions. The demand by some opposition lawmakers and scholars to discard the agreement is based on the wrong understanding of the matter. It will only be used by Japan to highlight Tokto as an area of international dispute.
We oppose it not only for the economic reason that abrogation would bring more damage to our fishermen. Article 15 of the agreement stipulates, “Any articles or clauses of the agreement shall not be considered as giving harm to the signatories’ position on international issues except for matters related to fisheries.” The Constitutional Court has also decided that it does not violate any constitutional clause on national territory.
Tokto is surrounded by 12 nautical miles of Korean territorial waters, and the waters surrounding the islands are under our exclusive control. No other countries, including Japan, can violate that without our permission. The middle zone where both South Korean and Japanese boats can catch fish is outside the territorial waters. So far, the government has never said there is no exclusive economic zone around Tokto. Therefore, if the islands are recognized as inhabited islands under UN maritime law, as a result of the policy to make the islands inhabitable, we will have the right to demand an exclusive economic zone in a new way.
The insistence on deploying troops there is not a good idea. Under international law, the essential condition for claiming national territory is “effective rule” of the area, and whether the government has exercised its national power there continuously and peacefully.
While we can exercise our national sovereignty on Tokto with a police contingent, there is no need to send troops. It is more important to implement such peaceful administrative measures as allowing tourism and giving permission for natural resources development in the sea around the islands. It is better to return to silent diplomacy. There is no need to create new problems by discarding the fisheries agreement or sending troops there. Why should we raise a question on the manifest truth that Tokto is our land?