[Viewpoint] A trap hidden in Noda’s letter

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[Viewpoint] A trap hidden in Noda’s letter

It was reported that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda lodged a complaint via a letter addressed to President Lee Myung-bak over the visit to Dokdo on Aug. 10, by using the expression “Lee Myung-bak’s landing on Takeshima.”

One cannot help but view it as an obvious intention to provoke and insult the head of the government of the Republic of Korea. Taking into account the hidden meaning, such an expression suggests a defiant undertone that goes beyond unfriendly language.

Are there any grounds for Japan to claim a territorial right over Dokdo? As then-Foreign Minister Byun Young-tae refuted eloquently the first Japanese proposal to refer the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1954, Dokdo was the first victimized land targeted by Japan’s invasion of Korea.

It is a well-known historical fact that Japan concluded the Japan-Korea Protocol in February 1904, which forced Korea to sign the First Korea-Japan Convention in August of the same year, and illegally incorporated Dokdo into its territory in February 1905, with the aim to use Korea as a base to conduct the Russo-Japanese War.

As such, the Dokdo issue is not a matter of territory, rather a matter of history.

At this time of Korea’s 67th anniversary of independence, Japan’s denial of Korea’s territorial right to Dokdo amounts to justifying Japan’s invasion of Korea and denying Korea’s independence and sovereignty.

Fifty years ago, Japan made persistent attempts to bring up the issue of territorial rights over Dokdo during the normalization of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, which our government immediately and resolutely rejected.

Although Japan made subsequent attempts to raise the Dokdo issue through various channels since then, this might be the first time that Japan asserted the territorial claim over Dokdo through a letter addressed to the head of our government using a provocative expression.

Prime Minister Noda probably had several intentions with the letter. First, he may have aimed to elevate the level of discussion from the working level to the presidential level.

If our government registers the letter and makes an official reply signed by the president, including any substantial comment on the Dokdo issue, Japan may use it as the main evidence of Korea’s acknowledgement of the territorial disputes over Dokdo.

Prime Minister Noda’s letter is not only impolite, but contains a hidden trap drawing President Lee into a dispute.

It seems like our government made the right decision to have returned Noda’s letter to Japan without reporting it to the president. There is no reason to be bound by diplomatic customs in dealing with a letter written with no consideration of international norms. Our government has long been resolutely rejecting Japan’s attempts to render the Dokdo issue an official matter between the two governments.

Since a letter reply with the presidential signature can be the highest level of diplomatic documents, the presidential reply can have a lot more repercussions than just making it an official matter. It can be misused for Japan’s propaganda in advocating the territorial disputes over Dokdo. It can provide a precedent for the subsequent Japanese prime ministers to follow.

Careful considerations are needed, keeping in mind the hidden intention of Japan.

Now is a time that requires a lot more sensitive and detailed efforts to convince the international community that Dokdo is an integral and irrefutable territory of Korea. Korea and Japan share a lot of values and should make a cooperative relationship in various areas.

For this to happen, the two nations should have an accurate perception of history and learn from it.

A history that is distorted or neglected by territorial ambition would be the cause of the deterioration of the relationship as well as the obstacle for the further cooperation between the two nations.

Only when Korea-Japan relations are built on the accurate perception of history can the future-oriented relationship be possible.


*The writer is former minister of foreign affairs and trade.
By Han Seung-ju
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