Japan works to find proof to back Dokdo claims

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Japan works to find proof to back Dokdo claims

The Japanese government launched its first investigation into finding evidence to back its territorial claims over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea, according to Japanese media reports.

The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sunday reported that through a research company and the cooperation of Shimane Prefecture, the Japanese government will investigate documents, fishermen’s testimonies and other evidence in what appears to be a move to bolster Tokyo’s claim over Takeshima, its name for Dokdo.

This is the first time the Japanese government has initiated an investigation into documents to support its claim over Korea’s easternmost islets since 1952, when South Korean President Syngman Rhee declared the “Peace Line” to include Dokdo in Korea’s territory.

Such actions are expected to elicit a strong backlash from Seoul amid ongoing tension following Japan’s investigation into the 1993 Kono Statement, the landmark apology for the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II. Japan also recently declared that it will exercise its rights to collective self-defense through an unconventional constitutional reinterpretation, which has put its neighbors on careful watch.

The Yomiuri reported that the research company already collected testimonies on June 26 and 27 from seven residents living on the Oki Islands, in Shimane Prefecture, including fishermen who operated in the waters near the Dokdo islets during World War II. The Japanese government plans to upload those testimonies to its Foreign Ministry website.

The Japanese government also plans on collecting tax documents, pictures of Dokdo dating back from the Meiji era (1868-1912), records from fishermen that prove activity on the Dokdo islets, and other information to support its territorial claims.

Japan considers Dokdo a part of Okinoshima, in Shimane Prefecture, for administrative purposes.

Korea holds administrative control over Dokdo, part of Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang. The islets can be seen in clear daylight from Ulleung Island. It is located just 87.4 kilometers (54 miles) southeast of the island.

Korea’s official stance is that there is no dispute over the Dokdo islets. However, Japan claims Dokdo as its inherent territory and argues that Korea is “illegally occupying” the islets.

On Jan. 18, 1952, President Rhee reclaimed Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo by declaring the Peace Line to protect Korean marine resources, namely from illegal Japanese fishing activity, and promote peaceful co-existence in the region.

The South Korean government is expected to firmly reiterate its stance that Dokdo is historically and geographically a part of Korean territory should Tokyo follow through with its plans.

Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed yesterday that it will allocate a budget of 4.84 billion won ($4.7 million) for 2015 for promoting awareness of the Dokdo islets as Korean territory. The sum is around the same as last year.

The budget will undergo review by the National Assembly before it is finalized. Since the government launched the project in 2003 to publicize Korea’s territorial claim, the budget for promoting awareness around Dokdo has steadily increased. In 2003, the budget was 250 million won. By 2011, it had steadily increased to nearly 2.37 billion won.

This nearly doubled, to 4.24 billion won, over the next two years under the President Lee Myung-bak administration.

This followed Lee’s landmark visit to Dokdo in August 2012, the first for an incumbent Korean president, which contributed to increased bilateral tension between Korea and Japan.

However, this is just a fraction of the budget that the Japanese government allocates for the promotion of its territorial claims, which includes disputes with China over the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu by Beijing. In the 2014 fiscal year, Japan set aside around 1 billion yen, or 10 billion won, to publicize its territorial claims, up from 810 million yen in 2013.

In the past year, the Korean government has stepped up its promotion of the Dokdo islets internationally, including through a new multiple-language Dokdo website launched by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The website is currently available in English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. Korea’s Foreign Ministry also unveiled a new Dokdo video clip, available in four foreign languages on Youtube, on its official channel. That countered a similar multi-language video first uploaded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Youtube last year.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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