[Viewpoiont] Knowledge is power in islet dispute

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[Viewpoiont] Knowledge is power in islet dispute

A few years ago, I showed a few of Japanese friends the video from my daughter’s sports meet at a public elementary school in Seoul. In the fields were 160 students in red T-shirts and white headbands, all holding Korean national flags in both hands. Then a song started. “Five hundred miles southeast of Uleung Island, the lonely island is the home of birds.” The children began to a choreographed dance to the music. Then at the end, they all sung out: “Dokdo islets are Korean territory!”

A Japanese friend who is familiar with both South and North Korea said the dance reminded her of the Arirang Festival in Pyongyang. Another said that she was reminded of the student soldiers’ launch ceremony in Japan during the Pacific War. A soccer fan joked, “The students are staging the Red Devil mass gymnastics at the event.”

While the performance is quite familiar to Koreans, it must have been a strange sight to most of the Japanese there. They think the Dokdo islets issue is a territorial dispute between Korea and Japan, and wonder why such a political issue is involved at an elementary school sports meet.

Japanese television programs about the Dokdo islets dispute often feature this nationwide campaign in Korea. They say, “All Koreans, young and old, male and female, like to sing a song called ‘Dokdo Islets Are Korean Territory’” or “Korea installed a mobile phone base transceiver station in the uninhabited island of Takeshima” - the Japanese name for the Dokdo islets.

No one explicitly says that Koreans are emotional. However, having seen the candlelight vigils and violent demonstrations in the foreign media, most Japanese conclude that this is in fact the case.

Meanwhile, Japan’s project to turn the Dokdo islets into Takeshima is progressing. Not only do middle and high school textbooks, guidebooks and references refer to the islets as Japanese territory, but even elementary school textbooks. Every time such a controversial move is made, Korean public opinion is stirred, and capitalizing on the turmoil, Tokyo is making the islets an issue domestically and internationally.

Ten years ago, the Japanese were not at all interested in where Takeshima was located or to which country it belonged. It’s different now. Recently, a Japanese newspaper conducted an opinion poll that found that 74 percent of the respondents believes the Dokdo islets are Japanese territory.

If the Korean government has adhered to so-called “quiet diplomacy” in fear that the Dokdo issue would evolve into a territorial dispute, it now needs to transition to a more aggressive diplomacy. Japan’s ruling Democratic Party and the government made it clear that foreign policy and territorial dispute are separate issues. This means our president must speak up personally and advocate for Korean possession of the Dokdo islets, not just to Japan but to the international community. To promote the ownership, we need to have systematic argument to prove that Dokdo islets belong to Korea.

We can only argue as much as we know. It is desirable for the government and civilian groups to create English brochures to publicize the beauty and value of the Dokdo islets. If Korean scholars are more active in the research on the islets than Japanese scholars, it will be only a matter of time before those foreign documents and maps that mark the islets “Takeshima” change the name to “Dokdo.”

If Japanese elementary school textbooks deal with the Dokdo islets issue, we need to look at the Korean textbooks as well as one of the most efficient ways for us is to teach the legitimacy of Korea’s territorial rights over the islets to the future generation. Instead of having them wave Korean flag and sing the Dokdo song, we need implant in their minds what the Dokdo islets means to us and why we need to defend them.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


By Park So-young
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