[Viewpoint]Responding to Dokdo

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[Viewpoint]Responding to Dokdo

Japan has set off a detonator. When ownership of Dokdo was mentioned in educational guidelines for social studies classes at junior high schools, two contentious issues, Japan’s textbooks and Dokdo, both exploded at the same time.

The explosion is stronger than before because President Lee Myung-bak and Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda recently announced intentions to open a new era of future-oriented Korea-Japan relations.

The school handbook is a provocation that the Japanese government has been carefully planning for the past three years. When former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was in office, the mention of ownership of the islets in the educational guidelines was decided. That was intentional.

Japan wants the islets for the sea resources around them. The issue can also be used to garner the support of Japan’s right-wing forces. It is expected that similar efforts to lay claim to Dokdo, known in Japan as Takeshima, will continue.

Japan’s central and local governments are sharing the task of making the Dokdo issue an international dispute. In February, 2005, Shimane Prefecture dedicated a day to Takeshima, upsetting Koreans. In February, Japan’s foreign ministry featured a pamphlet in a prominent place on its Web site stating that Takeshima is Japan’s territory.

The most important issue is how to respond from now on. It is very likely that Japan has a plan in mind to achieve its goal. Otherwise, it would not address the Dokdo issue so openly. Japan has probably gathered vast amounts of data in case the issue is taken to the International Court of Justice, and it is probably working under the table to rally friendly forces.

Up until now, the Library of Congress in the United States has used the keyword “Dokdo” when categorizing materials and references related to the islets. But the library is considering abandoning the keyword and replacing it with “Liancourt Rocks.”

It is very likely that Japan played some role in the library’s decision to consider this change. This incident shows that Japan has been working hard on the issue behind the scenes.

Japan is renowned for its strong influence and lobbying power in international society. This influence didn’t come cheap, of course. From 2007 to 2009, Japan’s contributions to the United Nations accounted for 16.6 percent of the total budget, second only to the United States. Japan’s 2006 official development assistance amounted to $11.6 billion, the third largest in the world. Korea’s Official Development Assistance was a mere $447 million.

With Japan making huge contributions to international society, its say and influence on the global stage have grown accordingly.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura of Japan said that countries always have different perspectives and arguments, so it is necessary to respond calmly and overcome the differences. That makes it sound as though Dokdo is merely a difference of opinion between two countries and sets the stage for an international resolution to the issue.

How about us, then? What can we do in response? As a sign of resistance, we can call our ambassador to Japan home and delay a summit meeting.

These are simple measures that we can take immediately. We can hold candlelight vigils and stage rallies to condemn the Japanese government.

However, these are not enough. Nothing can be resolved by outbursts of anger. The game of diplomacy between Japan and Korea isn’t favorable to Korea, as Japan enjoys high status in international society and Korea has relative disadvantages.

The Korean government must be well prepared from now on. It must do its best, including enhancing our control of the Dokdo Islets.

In the world at large, we should increase diplomatic efforts to show other countries and civic organizations why Dokdo is ours and why Japan’s argument is wrong. We should prevent something similar to the one at the Library of Congress from happening again.

Most importantly, we need thorough academic research. Funding for this purpose and support for academic institutes must increase. Both the ruling and opposition parties must work together.

If either of them attempts to make Dokdo a political issue, it will be severely criticized. The entire nation must work together and do its best to resolve the issue.

*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Kyung-hwan
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