[Viewpoint] Dokdo and crazy populism

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[Viewpoint] Dokdo and crazy populism

Let’s make a calculation now on the latest series of incidents involving Dokdo. Three Japanese lawmakers landed at Gimpo International Airport, claiming that they wanted to tour Ulleung Island, which is the nearest place to Dokdo. Korea denied them entry, citing immigration and customs law. The three lawmakers challenged the decision, asking why Korea was treating them like terrorists.

In protest, the trio stayed at the airport for nine hours, posted inflammatory messages on Twitter and even made public a false claim that Korea was about to lock them up in a detention center. After returning home, they suddenly became famous.

Realizing those political gains, their colleagues in the Diet started to say they too wished to visit Ulleung Island. At first, the incident was only reported by the right-wing Sankei Shimbun, but more Japanese media began following the story and it gained something of an international spotlight.

“Thus far it’s an issue that has been handled with restraint,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We would hope that such restraint would continue to be exercised and that South Korea and Japan work peacefully and diplomatically to find a mutually acceptable solution.”

That comment indicates that Washington is treating Dokdo as a disputed area, so the whole thing has been a gain for Japan. Who has worsened the situation? Of course, the Japanese lawmakers started the provocation. They are no different from terrorists in the Korean people’s minds. At the very least, they’re like extortionists, forcing Korea to treat them in a way that gets them sympathy back home.

But were the victims of their extortion totally innocent? Not the politicians who seized on the issue to get political gain.

There is no question that Dokdo is Korea’s territory. But patriotism is not the exclusive property of loud people. When politicians fuel the people’s emotion toward Dokdo, it gives an impression that they are abusing and politicizing the issue for their personal gains. Love for Dokdo and patriotism are not their exclusive properties.

Lee Jae-oh, minister without portfolio who handles political affairs, has long been hard-line about the issue and President Lee Myung-bak joined him at once. They have made a big mistake.

Because the president and his close aide raised the issue, Dokdo instantly received unnecessary attention. After it was belatedly revealed that Japanese reporters visited Ulleung Island on Aug. 2 and 3 to write stories, the Ulleung-gun government said it will step up measures to control foreign visitors. The ferry service that visits Ulleung Island and Dokdo decided to ban all Japanese passengers. This is extremely frustrating because it is actually more advantageous for Korea to confirm its sovereignty over Dokdo when Japanese have to report to the Ulleung-gun government and receive permission to visit Dokdo. That process shows who owns Dokdo.

Making the situation worse was the National Assembly’s special committee on defending Dokdo. They will hold a meeting on the island on Aug. 12. “We will create a list of right-wing Japanese who have claimed the territorial right over Dokdo and urge the government to ban them from entering Korea,” said Representative Lee Cheol-woo of the Grand National Party.

Although it is absurd to Koreans, it is the Japanese government’s official position that Dokdo is its territory. Therefore, the people who have asserted claims on Dokdo include every Japanese prime minister and all the members of the Japanese government. Does Lee was to ban all of them from Korea? Does he really think his proposal was feasible? Or did he know it was hot air?

The Japanese political community is no different. Perhaps the only exception is Representative Ryuichi Doi, who was expelled by the Democratic Party after signing a joint statement during a visit to Korea in February urging Japan to withdraw its claim to Dokdo. The rest of the Japanese lawmakers will all argue that Dokdo is Japan’s territory.

Unless we were going into a war, the Dokdo issue must be focused on “maintaining” our territorial right. We must bolster our control over the islets and wait until Japan gives up its claim. In the meantime, we must build our national power further.

Fortunately, the 1965 Korea-Japan Basic Relations Treaty has no mention of Dokdo, because Korea rejected Japan’s demand. In contrast, the four Kuril islands were cited as disputed territory in the 1955 declaration that normalized Russia and Japan’s relationship. When Japan and China normalized relations in 1978, they also agreed to resolve the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyutai Islands by Beijing) in the future. The Korea-Japan relationship is not all about Dokdo. It is time for Korea to regain its calm. The first step should be suspending the lawmakers’ plan to hold a committee meeting on Dokdo Aug. 12.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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