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Dispute over Dokdo Island hinders ROK-Japan relations
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15:11, July 23, 2008

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The recent row over the two islets of Dokdo further stressed the delicate relations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan. Dokdo consists of two tiny rocky islets, about 200 meters in area, surrounded by 33 smaller rocks. The Dokdo islets are located about 215 kilometers off the eastern border of Korea and 90 kilometers east of South Korea's Ullung Island. Both Japan and Korea have declared a claim on Dokdo, and both assert a long historic and geographical connection with the islets.

The Japanese maintain that they had incorporated Dokdo, an island they considered to be a terra nullius, into the Japanese Empire on January 28, 1905 when the Governor of Shimane prefecture proclaimed the islets, referred to as "Takeshima," to be under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands branch office of the Shimane prefectural government.

To this day Dokdo remains a part of Goka Village, Oki-gun, Shimane prefecture on Japanese registries. The Japanese government has even allowed their citizens to declare themselves residents of the islets. Since 1954, the Japanese government has been requesting that Koreans take the issue before the International Court of Justice. Koreans have consistently refused, stating that Dokdo is not a disputed territory: it is a Korean territory.

The Koreans, however, lay their claim on Dokdo based on earlier and more numerous precedents than Japan. They point to the document that named it a territory that was first incorporated into the Korean Shilla Dynasty in 512AD. They also point to various government and military reports, policy decisions, land surveys, and maps that were drawn in later centuries that do, in fact, show Dokdo (in its accurate geographic position) to be Korean territory.

In the 1950s, South Korea took action to stake its claim. The first was in September 1952, when then president Yi Seung-man (Syngman Rhee) sent a research vessel to Dokdo, causing a territorial dispute which captured public attention in Korea and Japan for the first time.

The conflict over Dokdo escalated considerably in 1953 and 1954, beginning with ROK president Syngman Rhee's establishment of the "Peace line" or "Rhee line." Much to the chagrin of Japanese authorities, on January 18, 1952, South Korea placed a territorial boundary line that extended into the East Sea/ Sea of Japan to encompass Dokdo.

The dispute over Dokdo hindered the normalization of diplomatic relations between the ROK and Japan from the end of the Pacific War in 1945, to June 1965, when the Basic Relations Treaty was signed between the two countries. As with the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, sovereignty over Dokdo was deliberately left out of the text of the treaty upon the ROK's request.

However, Tokyo, after months of deliberation, announced a plan on July 14 to define the Dokdo Islets as Japanese territory in a new book of education guidelines for middle school students, a move that once again ignited the Dokdo dispute.

In response, Seoul filed a complaint through the Japanese Ambassador to South Korea and temporarily recalled South Korea's Ambassador to Japan. Meanwhile, South Korea also announced measures to cement the country's control over the islets. President Lee Myung-bak expressed "deep disappointment and regret" over Tokyo's move, given the two countries' pledge just months ago to seek future-oriented relations while setting aside past historical issues.

Newly-fueled tension between the two countries also raised international concerns. The U.S. government has expressed a neutral stance. But China has showed its utmost concern over the double standards the Japanese side has repeatedly applied to its territorial disputes. Globally speaking, the unsettled Dokdo dispute and the retrogression in South Korean and Japanese relations could bring about a negative impact on the prospects of the Six-party talks and the blueprint to launch the "East Asia Community."

By People's Daily Online

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