[Outlook]Deeper than Dokdo

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[Outlook]Deeper than Dokdo

The Japanese annexation of Korea a century ago was an unbearable national humiliation to the Korean people. The harsh colonial rule of the Japanese imperialists provided us with an invaluable lesson - as we were not prepared to protect our own country, we were degraded and treated cruelly.

When we witness Japan again stirring up international controversy over Dokdo, and our neighboring countries and international allies, including the United States, show an indifferent avoidance response, it reminds us of painful memories from the time when Korea was forced to become a part of Japan in 1910.

Koreans were relatively less interested in basic information about their land, as they had no experience colonizing other countries. Japan and the Western powers ordered experts to gather basic information about Korea’s history, geography, resources, language, customs and economy, with a view to colonizing the Korean Peninsula and utilizing it to their advantage. During that process, French whale hunters gave the name of their ship - Liancourt - to Dokdo, and first introduced the islets to Europe, which later caused controversy around the geographical name.

Latin is a generally used as an internationally recognized standard for nomenclature to biological organisms. Many biological species on Ulleung Island and Dokdo are known to contain Takeshima in their scientific names and were introduced to the international community by Japanese scholars. Even the names of some biological organisms on the Korean Peninsula contain Japonica, meaning Japan, not Coreana. This is the direct and painful result of our negligence, as we paid no attention to our duty to research our land and our resources and to let the findings be known to the international community.

There is an old axiom that says good fences make good neighbors. Still, there are rare cases in which one country has an amicable relationship with its neighbor.

But Korea has had geographical and historical disputes over territory and geographic names with Japan, China and Russia. The confrontations between Korea and Japan over the East Sea and Dokdo are widely known to the general public.

In addition, Korea has potential territorial disputes over Mount Paektu and Ieodo, south of Jeju Island, with China. Korea is also likely to have a territorial dispute over Nokdune Island at the mouth of Tumen River with Russia.

This is a historic problem. However, it is mainly due to the fact that we have many geography illiterates who have no interest in the country’s land and thus little awareness of its geographic background.

Even now, if a dispute arises over historic distortions, territory or geographic names, we simply give an overly emotional response that lacks foresight. The problem remains unsolved and sinks below the surface as time goes by.

However, many countries which are deeply interested in territories and geographic names strive to protect their national interests in a far more organized way. They establish systematic organizations and conduct detailed studies. We should be giving a great deal more attention to our duty to cope with the situation in a systematic manner, rather than paying superficial attention to a pending issue.

Let me present four general alternatives to the way we currently deal with these situations.

First, the government should draw a long-term vision and plan regarding Korea’s territory, geographical names, map and public relations.

In this regard, departmental functions of pertinent organizations - such as the Office of the President; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs; Ministry of National Defense; and National Intelligence Service - should be rearranged and operated in a rational way. We should launch an organization similar to the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to ensure that a more liberal sharing of information and partnership-building is promoted among our organizations.

Second, there is a need to establish groups of experts both at home and abroad who are armed with expertise regarding geographic names, maps and territories, with a view to tackling potential territorial disputes. We should actively support this network and help facilitate their research. Research on land and resources is not expected to yield tangible results on a short-term basis. However, it contributes substantially to boosting the national interest, just as high-tech scientific technologies do.

Third, public relations brochures about Korea - such as the newly published “National Atlas of Korea” - as well as research results on territory, geographic names, and maps should be published in foreign languages including English.

We should be devoted to publicly promoting Korea’s position through international organizations, government agencies, universities, research institutes, media-related organizations, museums, libraries, publishing firms and Web portals. At the same time, we should forge closer ties with domestic and overseas media outlets, the cyber diplomatic delegation Vank, and civic groups.

Fourth, classrooms should focus on boosting national awareness and knowledge by strengthening history and geography education. For example, Britain and the United States have already incorporated history and geography into the five core subjects for middle school students, as they consider these two subjects to make a huge contribution to the national interest. In addition, we should pay more attention to other countries’ territory and geographic names, to examine whether the position of a relevant nation was indicated objectively.

The writer is a professor of the Department of Geography at Kyung Hee University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kong Woo-seok

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