[Viewpoint] A violation of international law

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[Viewpoint] A violation of international law

On Aug. 17, Tokyo proposed bringing the Dokdo case to the International Court of Justice, and the Korean government rejected the proposal. Seoul’s rejection is just and proper under international law.

Japan’s submission of the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice violates the “Exchange of Official Document to Solve Disputes” defined at the time of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea signed in 1965. So some may wonder what Japan really intended when proposing to bring the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice prior to an exchange of official documents.

The “exchange of official document” set in 1964 states that when Korea and Japan have a dispute that cannot be resolved through diplomatic channels, the governments of the two countries would seek resolution through mediation of a third country agreed by the two governments except for the cases with separate regulations. Therefore, a dispute between Korea and Japan should be mediated by a third country by principle, not through the International Court of Justice. So Japan’s proposal may fall into the “case of separate regulations.”

Tokyo wants to make it a new custom to take disputes to the International Court of Justice, as the exchange of official documents may be a challenge. And Japan must have expected Korea to reject the proposal. So Tokyo has previously said that if the proposal is rejected, it will utilize the exchange of official documents. It means the two countries will enter the process of “mediation.”

However, Japan’s logic is limited here. In order to go through the mediation by exchange of official documents, Korea needs to first acknowledge Dokdo as a disputed region. However, Seoul will never acknowledge that Dokdo is disputed. Japan knows too well that Korea would reject both the ICJ submission and the exchange of official documents. Its only purpose is to advocate to the world that Dokdo is disputed.

Theoretically, there are two types of territorial dispute submissions to the International Court of Justice. One is to obtain consent of the other nation before the submission and the other is to unilaterally bring a case without the consent of the other interested nation. Japan is telling Korea that it will take the case to the ICJ unilaterally if Seoul rejects the exchange of official documents for resolution as well. Of course, the Korean government will turn down both the exchange of official documents and the ICJ submission.

However, the situation is different if Japan unilaterally brings the Dokdo issue to the ICJ after Seoul turns down the exchange of official documents. Tokyo’s foremost concern is publicizing the dispute to the international community. Even if Korea rejects the proposal, Japan wants to publicize Dokdo as a disputed region by taking the case to the ICJ. There is a slim possibility that Japan may persuade the United States to say that it would be desirable to seek resolution of the Dokdo case through the International Court of Justice.

It is truly worrisome that Japan is trying to advocate Dokdo as a disputed region. Therefore, the Korean government needs to clearly state that the method of seeking resolution through the International Court of Justice is not compliant to the methods of disputing resolutions agreed to by Korea and Japan in 1965. It is desirable to prevent Japan’s provocation in the battle of international diplomacy beforehand. The Korean government needs to keep in mind that we are in a crucial phase to make a change of strategy.

Japan knows very well that applying international law to the Dokdo issue is disadvantageous for them. Also, it may be anxious that it does not have much proof. Seoul needs to be careful not to get involved in a physical clash, which will bring the Dokdo case to the International Court of Justice automatically. If the Korean government takes all precautions to prevent unforeseen clashes and incidents in advance, we will be able to safeguard Dokdo unless something serious comes up.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University.

by Yuji Hosaka

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