[OUTLOOK]Why we should keep a cool headIn this “Korea-Japan Year of Friendship,” relations between the two countries are in disorder over the Dokdo issue.
The Dokdo islands were returned to Korea upon the country’s liberation from Japanese rule in 1945. Since then, the Republic of Korea has effectively occupied the islands, and exercises de facto sovereignty over them. Therefore, there is no reason for Dokdo to be a problem for us.
But Japan’s continuous claims of territorial rights to the islands make it look as though the islands are still under dispute. Japan wants to take the issue to the International Court of Justice, but since we effectively occupy Dokdo, there is no reason for us to go along with that.
The possibility of Japan seizing the islands by force might cross our minds, but it is not likely that they will take such a risky action. After all, Japan knows well that we would stick together and risk our lives to defend them.
And at any rate, the Japanese would not completely destroy the Korea-Japan relationship by going to such lengths. There have been conflicts between the two countries over Dokdo in the past, but they were always settled in the end, and nothing has changed, since we still occupy the islands.
However, a generational change has taken place in Japan over the last half-century or so. Chauvinistic tendencies have become strong of late, and there are people who try to fan those flames. Observing the current controversy over Japanese textbooks, we can see that “guidance” by Tokyo has led to the insertion of such new expressions as “the illegal occupation of Japan’s Takeshima [Dokdo] islands by Korea.” In the past, it was thought that the Japanese government was able to exercise some prudence when it came to the Dokdo issue, but nowadays it seems as though its capacity for prudence has been lost.
Nevertheless, there is no possibility that the Japanese will find themselves with the upper hand when it comes to the islands. They may be trying to stir us up by exploiting our strong reactions to Japanese nationalism, but they will only end up turning the Korean people against them and making things worse for the Korea-Japan relationship.
There are a few points I would like to make about handling the Dokdo issue.
First of all, under previous administrations, the Korean government was often suspected of exploiting the tension between Korea and Japan over historical issues, including the Dokdo issue, for domestic political gain. It is not good for the government to use Dokdo politically.
Being fierce toward Japan will not help improve the situation at all. On the contrary, it will make it more difficult to settle the conflict. A cool-headed attitude is necessary.
Secondly, there is no need for us to raise our voices about Dokdo and thereby turn it into a problem. It is important to put our best efforts toward correcting errors in documents and maps published in third countries, but it would be best to keep our attempts to persuade foreign governments to a minimum.
Third-party countries tend to be indifferent to issues that have nothing to do with their direct interests, and if asked to express an opinion, they are likely to rely less on the logic of the issue than on their relationships with the respective countries. This is why diplomatic efforts to promote friendship with other countries are so important.
Thirdly, we should try to make our relationship with Japan a friendlier one, because it will put us in a more comfortable position. Exchanges between our two countries have expanded in recent years, and public sentiment toward one another has greatly improved.
The more our relationship improves, the more that relationship will be about the future instead of the past, and then Japan will find it harder to raise controversies like the Dokdo issue. It’s necessary to keep this in mind, and to maintain a wait-and-see attitude.
Excited, overemotional reactions from both countries are not going to be of any help in resolving this. All we really need to do is simply guard the islands, with firmness and determination.
It is certainly disturbing to hear the Japanese claim that Dokdo is theirs, but there is no way to stop them from doing so. It is best to think of the “Dokdo problem” as a chronic illness, and to mitigate the pain appropriately when it kicks in.
Korea and Japan are bound to live side by side forever. It is my sincere hope that a normal relationship will be quickly restored.
* The writer is a former Korean ambassador to Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-zhee