[OUTLOOK]How Dokdo fits into diplomacySouth Korea and Japan are entering a second round of conflict. Unification Minister and Chairman of South Korea’s National Security Council Chung Dong-young strongly maintained territorial rights over the Dokdo islands but left some room for the compensation issue for Japan’s past wrongdoings, saying, “The Kor-ean government will be responsible for what it should be but Japan should also do what it should do on the level of universal human values.”
On the other hand, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machi-mura flatly said that the compensation issue was conclusively over but vaguely said about the Dokdo dispute, “It is not desirable for both countries to expand the problem.” This means that we still have some regret over the compensation problem, and Japan still has some attachment to Dokdo.
I said in the last column that we had better not raise the issue of the past any longer. This was because the compensation and Dokdo issues were on different levels. No matter how much we advocate universal human values, demanding compensation for the past will be perceived as ignoring the agreements between the two countries and insisting unreasonably.
But raising arguments and questions over Dokdo is right to protect our land. Our government’s attitude is not clear. It is ambiguous whether the government intends to resolve both the Dokdo and compensation problems or whether it aims to get more compensation on the pretext of Dokdo.
The Dokdo problem gives us a good chance to make a clear conclusion. Even if we strongly contend our territorial rights over Dokdo, Japan can hardly respond. Because the Japanese prime minister knew this, he strongly refused to compensate for the past, but took an ambiguous attitude toward Dokdo. Above all, we have good justification for Dokdo. Historically, we reigned over and still rule the islets. Also, the people of the two countries take a different attitude toward Dokdo. Among our people, there is none who does not know Dokdo is “our land.” Dokdo is directly linked to our national pride. But among the Japanese people, there are many who do not even have interest in Dokdo. Therefore, to us, Dokdo amounts to an essential national interest, whereas in Japan, it does not.
The circumstances in surrounding countries are advantageous to us too. Japan has a conflict with Russia over northern islands and with China over islands in the South China Sea. We can easily imagine how these two countries would treat Japan because Japan has a history of invasion in the past.
The United States will be in an awkward position because in this region ― unstable because of the North Korean nuclear problem and the Taiwan problem ― South Korea and Japan, both allies of the United States, will be divided. So the United States will take the lead in preventing the Dokdo problem from worsening.
How would the situation develop if the Dokdo islands were connected with the important national interest of Japan? Japan has more than 10 times our economic and technological power and also has superior military power. The difference of naval and air forces between Japan and Korea is like that of adult and child. If a marine dispute broke out near Dokdo in the worst case, we are bound to be defeated. In the meantime, if the islets were so important, Japan would make efforts to win Russia and China over to its side. The United States would change too.
At present, relations between the United States and Japan have reached their peak. On the other hand, our relations with the United States have gradually waned. We will be isolated from other countries like an orphan. We don’t have strength on our own, either. It is fortunate indeed that Dokdo is not so important to Japan.
I see the United States again in the Dokdo issue. U.S. troops should be stationed on the Korean Peninsula not only because of North Korea. Neither should they do so only because of the Dokdo problem. When the two Koreas become unified, there is no guarantee that territorial disputes like those over Dokdo will not arise between China and Russia. A unified Korea will have a problem over Gando in southern Manchuria with China and a problem over a delta near the estuary of Duman River with Russia.
Although we should defend our territory with our power, we, surrounded by powers, are short of such strength. There are limitations to self-reliant national defense even if we advocate it loudly. That is why we need alliances.
The United States does not share its border with ours nor has it coveted our territory. In this regard, we can capitalize on the power of the United States most comfortably. We should hold on to the United States so that the country can check the regional powers on the Korean Peninsula. This is not because I am pro-American but because it is beneficial to our national interest.
In our country where Dokdo is incorporated into our national pride these days, the islands had been neglected too much. From now on, we should use and economically develop the islets. We should promote tourism and fisheries, including fish farms. Then we will be able to properly protect our economic zone, which will be marked in the days to come. Of course, Japan will complain every time, but I don’t think Japan will be able to raise a dispute for the reasons mentioned above.
From now on, we don’t need resentment. Our government, which could not speak out as it should, should be able to do so as a result of pressure from the public. Now we have only to do quietly what is necessary for the practical rule of Dokdo.
Those who would be stirred up are the Japanese people. If our government and politicians continue excessively voicing their opinions, we should doubt their use of the Dokdo issue for their political purposes. This is because it could be made “for domestic politics,” as criticized by the Japanese government.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk