[VIEWPOINT]Put Dokdo in its rightful positionDuring the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan illegally occupied the Korean Peninsula and purloined the Dokdo islets as a part of its territory. Even now, Japan claims the middle line between Ulleung Island and the Dokdo islets, which are both Korean territories, as its national boundary.
Historically, Japan has acknowledged on many occasions that the Dokdo islets and Ulleung Island are Korean territories.
Furthermore, Japan obviously admits that the two islands are a pair which can not be separated by calling them Matsushima and Takeshima, in Japanese. Matsu-take, pine-bamboo,always goes together as a phrase and symbolizes the fidelity and integrity of the Asian culture because of their evergreen nature. Thus, Japan has tacitly recognized the inseparable character of these islands.
After World War II, the Allied Forces returned the islands to Korea according to the Cairo Declaration, defining them as territory that Japan took by force.
In other words, despite the fact that Korea is the obvious owner of the Dokdo islets and Japan is a thief, it was due to the lack of historical understanding and the consciousness of rights that the Korean government agreed to separate Dokdo from Ulleung and include it in the waters between Japan and Korea in the new Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement.
What did the people, who expected that the pending issues between Korea and Japan would be resolved smoothly if they conceded to Japan, think when they heard that Japan declared “Takeshima Day” in the spring of last year and that Japanese deep sea survey ships tried to approach waters near the Dokdo islets?
It is a miscalculation that Japan will call us a good neighbor if we voluntarily ignore the Dokdo islets as a group of uninhabited rocks.
Japan insists on its territorial right for 200 nautical miles of water surrounding Okinodorishima, which is about the size of a double-bed. It has also blocked the approach of foreign vessels, by claiming the waters within 200 nautical miles of the Diaoyutai Islands.
It is out of ignorance of the principles of maritime demarcation lines that some people think if they ignore the issue of the Dokdo islets, Japan will not claim a territorial right over a group of rocks off Kyushu, or that Japan will ignore the Dongdo rocks in Shanghai.
When countries fix demarcation lines with other countries, they carefully consider the circumstances and negotiate a fair and balanced result. While fixing the demarcation line in the waters of the East Sea, the islands that lie in the Pacific Ocean or the Yellow Sea have nothing to do with it.
The Dokdo islets are genuine islands with which we can claim an exclusive economic zone. The height of the main islet is higher than Mount Namsan in Seoul and the area between the East Islet and the West Islet is as wide as an American football stadium. And if some 40 sunken rocks around the two islets are included, the area would be about the size of the city of Seoul. There is a spring for drinking water. The fisheries and sightseeing resources are abundant.
The Dokdo islets satisfy Article 121 of the UN Maritime Law and Agreements: The islets are equipped with an environment in which people can survive and manage an economic life.
The first president of the Republic of Korea, Syngman Rhee, who read the international law, overturned the cabinet’s decision to declare Korea’s exclusive fisheries zone in 1952. Instead he declared the “Peace Line,” the maritime sovereignty of the republic that included the Dokdo islets, waters around the Korean Peninsula and the seabed under the waters.
That the Dokdo islets were the base was unquestioned.
As the country was still at war, the “Peace Line” was drawn in a rough manner and the addendum attached to the declaration made it clear that the line should be finetuned in accordance with the development of technology. Therefore, it is right that the Dokdo islets should be one of the central points of the maritime border.
The Dokdo islets can potentially create an exclusive economic zone that is as big as South Korea. Professor Chani of the United States and many prominent scholars have asserted that the islets could accommodate residents and their economic activities.
I wonder what the people, who handled the negotiations with Japan, had in mind when they degraded their own land with such high economic potential, and did not mind handing over the surrounding waters that are about the size of South Korea even before the beginning of the negotiations.
At the negotiations for marking the national boundaries that will be held soon, Korean delegates should comply with the will of the people, following their historical awareness and the spirit of responsibility. They should not damage what their forefathers accomplished, but rather should contribute to it.
They shouldn’t commit the mistake of being hurried by setting a deadline in the negotiations, as they did when they concluded the new Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement, or by giving concessions first on the pretext of establishing a good relationship.
It is not a must that we need a maritime border that runs through the East Sea.
It would be better if we first try to abolish the neutral area that is under dispute and discuss the possibility of a pan-East Sea Fisheries Agreement that will include the surrounding waters of Ulleung Island, the Dokdo islets and Japan’s Oki Island.
* The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University. Translations by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Rhee Sang-myon