Japan Should Put an End to Its Distortion and Concealment of Dokdo Issues
and Emerge as an Honest Nation.
Yuji Hosaka, Ph.D. Political Science
Professor at Sejong University, Seoul Korea
I am a Japanese Korean who nationalized as a Korean in 2003 after 15 years of residency in the country. My research on Dokdo started in 1998 and has been ongoing to this day for 14 years.
I have researched Dokdo from an objective viewpoint as I am not a nationalist but a researcher in pursuit of truth. I have analyzed mostly the arguments of Japan, Korea, such as through the writings of key scholars and the major positions of both governments, going to the primary sources when necessary. The conclusion I have reached after 4 years of research is that there is much distortion and concealment in the arguments of Japanese scholars claiming Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo.
It was clear to me that it is not just the Japanese scholars but also the Japanese government that sought to hide or severely distort official documents in which Dajokan, the highest power in Japan in 1870 and 1877 concluded that Ulleungdo and Dokdo islands are part of Korea, beyond the limits of the Japanese territory.
Since the publication of my first academic paper on Dokdo in 2002, I have pointed out the attempts made by the Japanese to conceal or distort the Dajokan Order of 1877. The Isotakeshima map accompanying the Dajokan Order discovered by a Japanese pastor in 2005 made clear the fact that the two islands excluded by the Dajokan were Ulleungdo and Dokdo.
To the questions regarding the Dajokan Order posed by a Japanese congressman in the Japan’s National Diet in 2006 and 2009, the Japanese government evaded with the answer “It is under investigation.” From the Korean side, Yonhap News sent queries concerning the Dajokan Order in 2006 to the Japanese government and the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. They have since then continued on with the answer “It is under investigation.” They will probably reply that it is under investigation for ever.
As Japan’s mainstream legal ruling is that all Dajokan orders continue to be legally effective unless there is another order negating the relevant order, it [the Dajokan Order of 1877] is likely to be ruled as valid and effective should it ever be submitted in the court. That is probably why the Japanese government is keen to hide the Order and distort it.
In 2008, the union of social studies teachers’ in Hokkaido released a statement acknowledging that “Dokdo is Korean territory as stated by the Koreans”, followed by the statement by social studies teachers’ union of Tokyo in September 2009 noting that “There is no proof that Dokdo is Japanese territory.” Teachers of social studies in Japan seem to have gone so far as to conduct their own investigation on Korea’s viewpoint, having employed Japanese social studies textbooks which say that “Dokdo is Japanese territory.” As a result, they have begun to think of Dokdo as Korean territory. They refer to the Dajokan Order of 1877 as the first evidence to prove that Dokdo is Korean territory.
On August 24, Prime Minister Noda explained to the Japanese National Diet in three key points why Dokdo is Japanese territory. The event was broadcast live worldwide.
The Japanese had intended to maximize the propaganda effects through the live broadcast of the Diet event but it was a live broadcasting, exposing the limits of their logic. The aforementioned Dajokan Order completely denies the first of the 3 reasons put forth by Prime Minister Noda on why Dokdo is Japanese territory: that the Japanese had established sovereignty over Dokdo in the mid 17th century.
Much evidence exists to refute Prime Minister Noda’s first reason. As a starter, the Samurai-led Edo shogunate posed a question in January 1696 to the governor of Tottori-han (present day Tottori Prefecture) who frequented Ulleungdo and Dokdo, inquiring whether “there are any other islands besides Ulleungdo that is related to Tottori-han.” In other words, Edo shogunate was not even aware of Dokdo's existence. Could the Japanese have established sovereign rights over Dokdo in the mid 17th century when unaware of its existence? And to Edo shogunate’s question Tottori-han responded that “Songdo (The Japanese name for Dokdo at the time) exists but this too is not within our territory. No other region in Japan owns this island.” Such official documents are currently housed in the Tottori Prefectural Museum. The Dajokan Order of 1877 is the official document transmitted as result of a thorough review of these records. In conclusion, the statement made by Prime Minister Noda that Japan in the mid 17th century established sovereignty over Dokdo is one made in ignorance of history and the truth is that “Japan at the end of the 17th century confirmed Joseon’s sovereignty over Dokdo.” In other words, the Dokdo issue was completely cleared by the end of the 17th century, yet Japan once again raised issues with the island.
Let us now review the second reason why Prime Minister Noda declares Dokdo to be Japanese territory. The Prime Minister argued that Japan in 1905 incorporated Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture Oki Island. While asserting that Dokdo at the time was terra nullius, Japan puts forth an unreasonable assertion that it has incorporated Dokdo within its Shimane Prefecture based upon occupation.
However, the Ministry of Home Affairs of Japan at the time advised against the incorporation of Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture on the grounds that “We must not arouse the suspicion amongst the superpowers that Japan harbors the ambition to gobble up Korea by seizing the barren rocks [Dokdo] where not a blade of grass grows and which are considered as belonging to Korea.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, on the other hand, emphasizing that “It is high time that Dokdo is incorporated in Japanese territory” was successful in persuading other government bodies in the meeting of ministers of January 28, 1905 to decide upon the incorporation of Dokdo to Japanese territory. Here we need to take note of the fact that Japan incorporated Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture surreptitiously. Announcement of this incorporation was published not in the Japanese official gazette but in the Shimane Prefecture Public Notice and a local newspaper produced a small article on this but very few Japanese were able to notice it. The Japanese government accepted the advice of the Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs, thus keeping the invasion of Dokdo outside the attention of Korea as well as that of the surrounding superpowers.
Japan from then onwards started to exchange deals with the superpowers with the objective of overtaking the whole of Korea, not just Dokdo. The United States and Japan through the so called Taft-Katsura Agreement of August 1905 established an understanding whereby Japan acknowledges the US's rule over the Philippines in return for US’s acquiescence of Japan’s rule over Korea. The United Kingdom at the time also signed up to this secret agreement, thus enabling Japan to successfully make the two major superpowers of the time - the US and the UK - into its ally. Japan in September 1905 concluded the Treaty of Portsmouth with Russia in which the Japanese were successful in inserting within Article 2 that “Russia acknowledges Korea as a protectorate of Japan” thus eliciting Russian endorsement of Japan’s privileged status in the matters related to the Korean Peninsula. The Qing dynasty at the time had lost all influences over Korea due to its defeat at the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japan, having silenced all the superpowers, was now able to force at will Eulsa Treaty upon Korea in November 1905 depriving the country of all its diplomatic power. By then, Japan was no longer obliged to be secretive about its absorption of Dokdo.
Shimane Prefecture officials of Japan in March 1906 verbally transmitted to Ulleung County Magistrate Sim Heung-taek that Dokdo was incorporated within Japanese territory. To this, Sim Heung-taek submitted a report to his superiors stating that “Dokdo currently under our governmental jurisdiction is said to have been incorporated into Japanese terrritory.” The Korean government replied by issuing the Directive Number 3 which states that “That cannot be. Pay careful attention to the activities of the Japanese.” confirming that Dokdo is Korean territory. Dokdo is thus Korean territory forfeited by the Japanese in the process of their occupation of Korea. This is the historical context Korea is referring to. At the core of the Dokdo matter is the historical issue of plundering undertaken by the Japanese military that landed on the Korean peninsula on February 1904, who went on pillaging Dokdo and the entire Korean Peninsula.
Prime Minister Noda in his August 24th statement emphasized that “Dokdo is not a historical issue, but a territorial one.” One cannot help but develop resentments towards the Japanese which turns a blind eye to such a history of invasion. Furthermore, Japan asserts that no evidence exists to prove that Korea had an effective sovereignty over Dokdo prior to 1905, but evidence after evidence is emerging to prove that Korea indeed had effective sovereignty over Dokdo before 1905.
For example, Japanese ships which have operated around Ulleungdo collected mainly fisheries such as abalone and agar as per the Agreement between Joseon- Japan forged at the end of the 19th century. However, there are records which prove that the Japanese went as far as Dokdo in search of abalone when the catch was low. There are Japanese records which state that otaridae hindered the fishermen’s activities when they were collecting abalone. The Japanese sent the abalone to Ulleungdo where they were processed and exported to Japan. The fact that Ulleungdo administrative chief levied export tax upon these fishermen can be confirmed through the official records of Japanese Pusan Consulate. These are proofs strongly substantiating the fact that Korea in the latter part of the 19th century ruled over Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Tax collection is a distinct form of exercising one’s sovereignty over its territory.
Thus, Dokdo was not terra nullius before 1905 because it had an owner, namely Korea. This completely annuls Japan’s claim of sovereignty over Dokdo based upon its 1905 “occupation of ” terra nullius.
The island of Dokdo carries as much significance in the minds of Koreans as the whole of the Korean peninsula. The Japanese invasion which started with Dokdo engulfed the entire peninsula as a result of which Koreans have lost everything. The dispossessed Koreans under Japanese imperialism had to face all kinds of exploitation in the form of suppression, forced labor, sexual slavery of women, forced military conscription to warfare while resistance fighters faced gruesome death during imprisonment. Such pains were caused from having lost sovereignty over its land.
The whole of Koreans are naturally obliged to protest against the latest moves by the Japanese as they evoke the painful past when Japan attempted the absorption of Dokdo as a first step to the ultimate occupation of the entire Korean Peninsula.
Prime Minister Noda however identified the following as the third point. “The US Department of State turned down Korea’s request to include Dokdo within the Treaty articles relating to Korea’s territorial sovereignty when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was being drafted in July 19, 1951. Korea nevertheless declared the Seungman Rhee Line (Peace line) and has been illegally occupying Dokdo to this day.” Such a statement exposing the essence of the Japanese theory of “Korea's illegal occupation of Dokdo” can neither be excused nor overlooked.
Here again Japan makes a major distortion of facts. It is misrepresenting a US view as if it is shared by all the other signers of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It is true that the US had made a strategic attempt to make Dokdo into Japanese territory. However, that was the view of just the US and there were many other states among the Allied Powers which strongly asserted that Dokdo is part of Korean territory. The sole view of the US without the consensus of the Allied Powers does not constitute the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
The conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty was that Dokdo was marked neither as a Japanese nor as a Korean territory. Japan argues that Korea declared the Seungman Rhee Line thus initiating an illegal occupation of the island even after it became a Japanese territory, but the Japanese argument does not hold as no evidence exists that under the San Francisco Peace Treaty that Dokdo is Japanese territory.
It is appropriate that Japan be accused for its attempts to distort the fact by willfully expanding and exaggerating the views of the US at the time. In the meantime, no country demanded that Korea has to depart from Dokdo as Dokdo is Japanese territory. All Allied Powers have de facto acknowledged Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo which has continued since 1945. The US also has changed its position since 1954 with the United States Board on Geographic Names recognizing Korea as the country exercising sovereignty over Dokdo.
As Japan's claim of sovereignty over Dokdo is wrong, Korea has no basis to assent to Japan's referral of the Dokdo issue to the ICJ. I urge Japan to immediately halt its unjust assertions and actions and renew itself for the peace and prosperity of Asia.