[Viewpoint] Preparing the case for Dokdo

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[Viewpoint] Preparing the case for Dokdo

Recent tensions between China and Japan concerning the territorial conflict over the Senkaku Islands have subsided. However, this regional dispute provides a lesson for Korea.

Let’s look at the case of Dokdo, a group of small islets whose sovereignty is disputed between Japan and Korea. Dokdo is currently controlled and administered by Korea, but Japan claims sovereignty to the islets. In contrast, the Senkaku Islands are controlled and administered by Japan, but both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China insist that the islands belong to China.

Korea’s official stance is that Dokdo is traditionally a part of Korea’s territory and there should be no territorial dispute over the islets. Japan, too, officially argues that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan and there should be no territorial dispute over them.

This time, China used its influence and pressured Japan to successfully make an international issue out of the Senkaku Islands and let the world know about the territorial dispute. Japan was alarmed by China’s aggressive display of power and released the captain of the Chinese fishing boat it had arrested after his trawler collided with Japanese coast guard patrol boats in early September.

When China demanded an apology and compensation, Japan made its refusal clear. If Tokyo makes an apology to Beijing and agrees to offer compensation for the incident, it would effectively mean that Japan acknowledges China’s sovereignty over the disputed islands.

Since China refuses to conduct high-level dialogue on the issue, Japan is now aggressively publicizing that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory in international venues like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). The Chinese government responded to the international attention sensitively. China must have taken into account that if Japan makes a logical argument for the legitimacy of its territorial claims, it would lack historical and legal evidence to counter Japan.

Japan has published its evidence on its Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site. If the Senkaku Islands dispute leads to a rhetorical contest between China and Japan, it is highly likely that Japan will have the advantage. Therefore, China has avoided a direct confrontation with Japan, for now.

The Dokdo dispute is similar. If Korea and Japan wage a battle of words, the key to the victory will be how Korea overcomes Japan’s arguments by clearly publicizing the fact that Dokdo is Korean territory. But Japan could use the international stage to make its argument that Dokdo is Japanese territory.

Instead of branding Japan’s claim over Dokdo unreasonable and unjustifiable, Korea needs to be thoroughly prepared with factual, historical and legal arguments. The question is whether Korea can calmly respond in a reasonable manner instead of raising its voice or using force.

Dokdo specialists should thoroughly research the region’s history and the Korean government needs to clearly summarize the research results so that Korea can counter and respond to any challenges by Japan. There is a possibility that the rightist nationalist groups in Japan might trespass into Korea’s territorial waters around Dokdo, as they have done before, as they respond to increased tensions with China.

Moreover, Korea also has to keep in mind the dispute with China over Ieo Island, south of Jeju Island. If we fail to resolve the tension diplomatically, we need to address the issue with arguments based on history and international laws.

China has territorial disputes with Southeast Asian countries as well, so we need to consider the possibility that China would use force to pressure Korea to tackle the Ieo Island issue.

We must not forget the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

*The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yuji Hosaka
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