[VIEWPOINT]Japan always causes the problemsRelations between Korea and Japan are rocky once again over the issue of the Dokdo islets. The negotiations to be resumed to define the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the two countries in the seas around the islets will probably also bring a lot of pain. Korea-Japanese relations have had a pattern of changes for the worse and for the better, and of tension and relaxation, since 1945. The reasons for the changes for the worse and the tension have always been provided by the Japanese ― including the absurd remarks of Japanese politicians, the comfort women issue, distorted history textbooks, the Japanese prime minister’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and their claim over the Dokdo Islets. This obvious fact is crucial to the solution, as it shows where the subject lies and how to solve the problem.
The Dokdo problem has two dimensions. The first dimension is that it is the product of the general awareness and policy of the Japanese, similar to such things as textbooks, comfort women, the Yasukuni Shrine and the absurd remarks from Japanese politicians. The Dokdo issue is not a separate problem. Second, it symbolizes Japan’s unique pattern of action, in which it tries to expand its national interest and influence while Korea is in a vulnerable position internationally.
The Dokdo issue, which started when Japan incorporated the islets as part of Shimane Prefecture in 1905, was raised along with a series of diplomatic and international measures such as the Taft-Katsura agreement and the U.K.-Japan alliance at a time when Korea’s status was decided by the Russo-Japan war in 1905. And it was reflected in the San Francisco Peace Treaty during the Korean War, another period of turmoil for Korea. The occasions were both critical moments for Korea.
In the first draft of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the territorial part naturally stipulated that the Dokdo Islets were Korean territory that should be rightfully given up by the war criminal country, Japan. It was the same for other drafts after that, too. However, the persistent lobbying of Japan, with the help of U.S. political advisor to Japan William J. Sebald, led to a continuous change, and Dokdo was excluded in the final agreement accepted by the United States. Japan has been stressing this agreement since then.
However, in the same agreement, there is nothing upon which Japan can argue the legitimacy and truthfulness of their actions to provoke, colonize and exclude the Dokdo Islets from restoration. On top of that, the Dokdo issue is unique from other territorial conflicts. It is a dispute between former imperialists and their former colony.
We don’t think it worthwhile to compare Japan with Germany, which gave up its territory east of the Oder-Neisse for reconciliation and peace and as a sign of repentance over its invasion into neighboring countries.
Considering the fact that Japan knowingly made a groundless issue of the Dokdo Islets at the beginning of 20th century and sutured it as if they had done nothing about it, renewing the Dokdo issue at the moment not only goes against the rules of action of a civilized country, but also deprives it of moral standing.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida called the tragic Korean War “a gift from God (for Japan).” Now that the Japanese economy has revived and U.S.-Japan relations have been strengthened so that Japan can reappear on the international stage, the Japanese might have started to think that this is a gift in which they can make an issue of the Dokdo Islets again.
Now it’s time to calmly look for an ultimate solution.
We need to pursue a solution based on the rule of international society and the legal system. We need a comprehensive countermeasure to handle the problems comprised of historical developments, the incorporation of the Dokdo Islets into Shimane Prefecture, colonial rule and the 1951 peace treaty. We must consider whether our reactions were too weak, because we assumed they were justified as if they had been acknowledged internationally.
Next, we should expand and develop the past movement of cleaning up history to a international campaign, by strengthening our civic alliance with the people of Northeast Asia. This is needed because problems related to our history and our territorial conflict with Japan continuously obstruct peace and reconciliation in Northeast Asia.
Third is the absolute need to safeguard the Japanese peace constitution. If Japan is allowed to build up its military power to a fearful level on top of its territorial greed, as the Dokdo issue shows us, peace and order in Northeast Asia will be greatly threatened.
Fourth, we need to establish a multi-national organization to promote security, human rights and peace in Northeast Asia. To enhance human rights, reconciliation and peace, the problems related to history and territorial disputes in this area must be solved in cooperation with neighboring countries.
Japan’s strategy of making the Dokdo Islets an internationally disputed area presents a lesson. Let’s not confine the issue to the 1951 agreement. We can make those Japanese imperial periods a solid international issue. Checking legal and historical aspects of those periods in detail might be the first step toward the reconciliation, peace and prosperity of this area.
* The writer is a visiting professor at the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum, Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Myung-lim