The dispute between Korea and Japan over the sovereignty of Dokdo Island was rekindled during the 23rd United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) held in Wien, Austria, on 30 March 2006. A Japanese representative claimed that Dokdo is Japanese territory. As the Korean representatives refuted it, representatives from both nations had a heated debate.
According to the Director of the East Sea Workshop, Moon Myung-ho, while Joo Sung-jae, professor at Kyunghee University, was explaining Korean Romanization of geographical designations including Dokdo, suddenly the Japanese representative Moriyas Gassmi insisted on Japanese dominion over Dokdo. It happened in the afternoon of 30 March, local time. Moriyas said Dokdo should be named Takesima because it is a territory owned by Japan, and so the Korean representative Lee Ki-suk, in a retort to the Japanese claim, asserted that Korean policemen and fishermen now live in Dokdo. And the Japanese claim had no ground. Chairman Peter Paul presiding over the meeting agreed with a view that such a subject could not be properly pursued at that place and time.
Dokdo Territorial Sovereignty in History
Either called Doksum or Dokdo, the island has a gross area of 0.186㎢. It is a volcanic island 90㎞ southeast of Ulleungdo. It consists of 36 rocks. The ancient Korean history book The History of Three Kingdoms says Dokdo has been Korean territory since Silla ruled Dokdo in 512, though the Japanese government has other ideas.
We shall now look at historic research materials presented by Korea and Japan. Even though illustrations are limited, information with significantly controversial aspects may be given.
The Geographical True Record of King Sejong (1454), the original Korean title of Sejong Sillok Jiriji, which includes information about the Eight Provinces of the Joseon period and describes its economy, society, army, industry, and policies for historical and geographical research, is interpreted differently by Korea and Japan concerning the sovereignty of Dokdo.
While a few important points of Korea's explanations are stated, the Geographically Accurate Record of King Sejong tells us that "Dokdo and Ulleungdo are so close that we can even see them clearly. But, we can't see Dokdo from Oki Island, which is the nearest Japanese island to Dokdo." Sinjeung Dongguk Yeojiseungram (1531) also mentions Dokdo is Joseon's territory belonging to Gangwon province. On the map, Dokdo's location is a little different from its exact location. The Japanese explanation is that, 'We can't stop doubting Usando means Dokdo in the Geographical True Record of King Sejong. Joseon's historic book, The History of Three Kingdoms (Samguksagi) recorded that the Usan nation belonged to Silla since the year 512. However, there is a possibility that Koreans have misjudged Ulleungdo and Usando. Also Dokdo's location was wrong in Sinjeung Dongguk Yeojiseungram. So we insist Dokdo is ours.'
Now for the next controversial source, Meiji Govenment's official documents (including Joseon Kokkyo Kosai Simatsu Naitansyo) should be mentioned. Korea's stance on this source can be summarized as follows. "In 1876, the Japanese province Shimane asked the Japanese government if Dokdo should be researched. Then Japanese government said, 'We have nothing to discuss, because Dokdo is Joseon's territory and we have had no bearing on it since 1699.' So Dokdo was removed from the Japanese map and cadastral survey at that time." On the contrary, Japan explains, 'Joseon Kokkyo Kosai Simatsu Naitansyo just announced one sentence about Dokdo; it doesn't explain why Dokdo is Joseon's territory. There was not any title about such a matter as the investigation in the 'regulations for investigators secretly dispatched to Joseon' that the Japanese Foreign Ministry prepared a draft which Taejeonggwan(a government office generally administering the general affairs of state in Japan(710-857)) approved such a fact. Therefore we cannot know about the detailed situation about Dokdo.
There are also disagreements between both nations' official assertions over Dokdo's territorial sovereignty as many as historically different views. For a while, Korea had demonstrated a policy of 'silent diplomacy' on Dokdo because Dokdo is Korean territory, and the nation does not have to answer every mistaken statement issued from Japan. But now, Korea has asserted stronger diplomatic policies.
Firstly, one of them is to do with geographical location. The distance between Oki Island and Dokdo is twice as far as between Ulleungdo and Dokdo. Secondly, historical evidence proves that Korea has managed Dokdo ever since Silla dynasty. Thirdly, international law should be satisfied with Korea's opinion. For example, if one nation wants to obtain an island, that island should have no owner, the nation should express their objections widely and have practical possession of that island. Fourthly, the Cairo Declaration includes the statement that Japan must give up dominion over all territories of Korea after World War II.
But the Japanese government has a different point of view. Japan wants to get back Dokdo by arbitration. In reply, points against this claim include facts, firstly such as the existence of Joseon's 'Empty Island policy' (EIP). The EIP was made to avoid Japanese plundering of the island. To protect our people, Joseon made island inhabitants move onto the mainland. At that time, Japan managed the island for about 450 years. Secondly, Japan insists they preoccupied the ownerless island. The third point is a difference in interpretation of the Peace Treaty with Japan. Korea recognizes that Dokdo belongs to Ulleungdo. But Japan thinks it gave up Jeju island, Geomundo, Ulleungdo only but not Dokdo.
In this case, we should return to check the SCAPIN (Supreme Command Allied Powers Instruction) which was made after World War II. According to the SCAPIN number 677, 1033th, 'On 29 January 1946, Supreme Command Allies proclaimed Ulleungdo, Dokdo, Jeju Island are excluded from Japanese territory on SCAPIN the number 667th clause 3 (a) group. . . . Supreme Command transfers Dokdo to America military administration. As time went by, Korea got Dokdo back when the Republic of Korea was established.'
But Japan shows different explanations such as these. 'In SCAPIN the 677th, Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and Jeju Island were excluded from Japan. But that means the removal of administrative power, not Dokdo's territory. In conformity with the same instruction, we do not have to interpret that all instructions appear under the order of the Supreme Command. Otherwise, Japanese sailors and fishermen couldn't access Dokdo within 12 miles of SCAPIN. MacArthur's line, which admitted Japanese fishermen beyond the sea boundary without individual permission, had been expanded, but the boundary line throughout the East Sea had not been changed.
International Law on Dokdo
Although both nations have complicated views on Dokdo, this is a problem which could be solved. In general, there are many ways to settle problems between nations. These include a direct negotiation, a third nation's arbitration, judgements from special committees, and war. It is my opinion that we should of course prepare all possibilities except a war. Hereupon, I asked the advice of Lee Yong-ho, professor of the College of Law at Yeungnam University.
YNO: "In Korea, if we go to an International Court of Justice to protect Dokdo against Japan, is there any disadvantage?"
Prof. Lee: "Many Koreans are worried about that. The answer is no. But I think that our understanding of the situation is unfair. First, Dokdo is Korean territory. Why should we go to the International Court of Justice? We don't have to. Second, Japan has been pulling international publicity stunts with regard to re-obtaining the possession of Dokdo. As a result, there is little international awareness for Korea's benefits. Third, Korea and Japan have hugely different viewpoints on Dokdo. In Korea, Dokdo is a symbol of Korean independence and pride. But most Japanese feel that Dokdo is just some rocky islands."