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History of and Sovereginty over Dokdo
- Nine Stories of Dokdo that are distorted by Japan

1. Perceptions of Dokdo in Korea and Japan
2. Fishermen's Ownership of Dokdo?
3. Prohibition of Travel to Ulleungdo: the Outcome of Ahn Young-bok's Activities
4. Incorporation of Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture in 1905
5. Dokdo Before and After World War II
6. Issues of the San Francisco Peace Treaty
7. Establishment of the Peace Line (Syngman Rhee Line)
8. Dokdo: a Bombing Range for the U.S. Army
9. Reference to the International Court of Justice

The following nine accounts are intended to explain certain aspects of the history of and sovereignty over Dokdo. They show, in particular, how the webpage of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs strives to distort and gloss over the truth and misleads the Japanese people. The accounts are what Japan is reluctant to discuss in public, even as it lays claim to the island.


1. Perceptions of Dokdo in Korea and Japan

According to Samguksagi ("Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms"), an island state known as "Usanguk" was incorporated into Korea's Silla Dynasty in A.D. 512 when Lee Sa-bu, a governor of the ancient kingdom of Silla, conquered Usanguk. The eastern islands Ulleungdo and Dokdo that composed Usanguk have been part of the Korean history ever since. Dokdo has been known by various names including Usando and Sambongdo, but Seokdo or Dokdo came to gain widespread currency since the late 19th century.

Many historical records including Sejongsillok ("Annals of King Sejong") (1454) have clearly shown there were two groups of islands - Ulleungdo and Usando - in the East Sea, and that Usando refers to Dokdo. Some Japanese scholars have tried to deny the existence of Usando, asserting that "there is a view claiming that Ulleungdo and Usando are in fact one island known by different names." However, this view appears in such documents as the Sinjeung donggug yeoji seungnam (Revised and Augmented Version of the Survey of National Geography of Korea) (published in 1481, revised in 1531) merely as a way of briefly introducing a view held by a minority of people, and the official view clearly distinguishes Ulleungdo and Usando as two separate groups of islets, demonstrating Korea's perception of Dokdo as part of its territory in those days.

Many maps clearly distinguish between Ulleungdo and Usando. Though some old maps incorrectly indicate the position and size of Dokdo, this does not mean that they are denying the existence of Usando. Maps manufactured in old times, before the development of science and technology, lacked accuracy in terms of geographic information and measurement, and relied on the subjective perception of each map's creators. The key point here is that most of the old Korean maps, whether produced by the government or by civilians, show both Ulleungdo and Dokdo, demonstrating that even in the past, Dokdo was recognized as a territory of Korea.

The first document in Japan to make reference to Dokdo is the Onshu shicho goki ("Records on Observations in Oki Province") compiled in 1667. Interestingly, the Web site of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs dares not mention this document. Onshu shicho goki is a topographical survey of Onshu (present-day Oki Island) compiled by a government official of Izumo. The survey stating, “Onshu is in the middle of the North Sea... two-days of sailing northwest brings one to Songdo, and then Jukdo after one more day... therefore, Japan's boundary shall be limited to this state (shu),” explicitly recognizes Onshu as the boundary of Japan. This is a record that clearly shows that Japan in the 17th century did not see Dokdo as its own territory.

Despite Japanese claims that it has recognized Dokdo for a long time, old Japanese maps produced by the government consistently omit Dokdo, and many civilian-made Japanese maps place Dokdo as part of Korean territory.


2. Fishermen's Ownership of Dokdo?

The Japanese have made claims that Japan´s "effective management" of Dokdo had been in place as early as the 17th century, when the shogunate allegedly granted the merchant family Otani from Yonago the territory of Ulleungdo as well as the license to travel there to fish around the island. They say that Japan had used Dokdo as a port of call to Ulleungdo. However, by the 17th century Korea's Joseon Dynasty had implemented the Empty Island Policy under which the Korean government officially prohibited anyone from entering the islands to deter the Japanese piracy. The Japanese had in fact been fishing illegally in Ulleungdo and Dokdo. The illegal acts of Japanese fishermen cannot serve as grounds for sovereignty claims over the islands.

Moreover, the society at the time was in a feudal state, and all lands belonged to the feudal lords. It is unimaginable that a shogunate would have granted Ulleungdo and Dokdo to a commoner. It is also generally known that the license to travel to Ulleungdo had noting to do with territorial ownership of Ulleungdo or Dokdo.

3. Prohibition to Travel to Ulleungdo: the Fruit of Ahn Young-bok's Activities

Japan has also claimed that the prohibition on entry only applied to Ulleungdo and did not include Dokdo. This assertion not only contradicts the perception at that time of Dokdo being an island appurtenant to Ulleungdo, but is also wrong considering the account of many incidents surrounding the ban in historical records.


4. Incorporation of Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture in 1905

Japan purposefully maintains silence over and feigned disinterest in the Japanese Dajokan's ruling of 1877 when it recounts the background of the "incorporation of Dokdo". The ruling, issued by the Japanese Dajokan, the Council of State of the Meiji Government, to Japan's Ministry of Home Affairs in 1877, provides conclusive evidence of Japan's recognition of Joseon's ownership of Dokdo. After thoroughly reviewing past records and documents, the Dajokan instructed that "in reference to Takeshima and another island, it is to be remembered that our country has nothing to do with them." Japan's Meiji Government had in fact, at the end of the 19th century, officially confirmed that Ulleungdo and Dokdo did not belong to Japan.

Meanwhile, Korea abolished the Empty Island Policy toward Ulleungdo at the end of the 19th century and started to actively develop Ulleungdo and Dokdo. In 1900 the Korean government strengthened its control of Ulleungdo and Dokdo. The Korean Empire issued Korean Government Imperial Ordinance No. 41, defined the jurisdiction of Ulleungdo and Seokdo (Dokdo), and upgraded the administrative state of Ulleungdo to the "gun" level. The website of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that it is unclear whether Seokdo refers to Dokdo in the Imperial Ordinance. The answer to this question can be easily found in the Korean practice of using both the Korean pronunciation of a Chinese character and its meaning in Korean to name a geographical area, and it has already been proven that Dokdo and Seokdo, designated differently, mean the same.

Moreover, though the Ordinance enumerates Ulleungjeondo, Jukdo and Seokdo, there is no island near Ulleungdo other than Dokdo that can be considered "Seokdo." The Japanese Foreign Ministry's website argues that even if "Seokdo" is in fact Dokdo, there is no evidence of the Korean Empire having controlled Dokdo. However, Japan should understand that the Ordinance was not a declaration of incorporation of Dokdo into Korea, as Dokdo was already recognized as being owned by the Korean Empire. The Ordinance merely revised the jurisdiction.

5. Dokdo Before and After World War II

Given the history of Korean sovereignty of Dokdo and Japan's illegal incorporation of the island under Shimane Prefecture in 1905, it would be futile to cite more documents on the sovereignty of Dokdo. It is well known that Japan had taken not only Dokdo but the entire Korean peninsula through violence and greed in 1910.

After Japan lost the war in 1945, Korea won back its independence and regained sovereignty over its territory. The Cairo Conference of 1943 forced Japan to give up all territories that it had taken by "violence and greed."

The Korean sovereignty over Dokdo was clearly established in history. The allied forces who won the war were not endowed with the authority to determine the sovereignty of Dokdo, but anyhow the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers' 677th instruction (SCAPIN No. 677) in 1946 specifically outlined Japanese territory, limiting it to four islands, and stated that Ulleungdo, Jeju-do and Dokdo were to be excluded from Japan's administrative authority.

6. Issues of the San Francisco Peace Treaty It is a well-known fact that in the process of drafting the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan intentionally made Dokdo omitted from the Peace Treaty by lobbying slyly with the U.S. government, which did not have accurate knowledge of the history of Korea and Japan, and providing the United States with skewed information. Rather than being apologetic for having triggered the war, Japan continued to resort to diplomatic trickery to manipulate the U.S as well as Korea which the Japanese imperialist regime had trampled on relentlessly for several decades. The lessons that history provides seem still relevant today.

7. Establishment of the Peace Line (Syngman Rhee Line)

In 1952, President Syngman Rhee issued the "Proclamation of Sovereignty Over Adjacent Seas" establishing a jurisdictional line called the Peace Line (sometimes called the Syngman Rhee Line) in the East Sea, which encompassed Dokdo on Korea's side of the line. Japan harshly criticized the line as being unilateral and illegal.

The Syngman Rhee Lin is similar to the "MacArthur Line" that had already been drawn by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). Illegal fishing by Japan had already caused a problem during the period when SCAP ruled Japan, hence the establishment of the MacArthur Line. All Korea had done was draw a similar line to protect its fishery resources and its national interests from a colonial marauder.

In addition, the Peace Line was a reflection of the trend at the time to extend maritime jurisdiction, with the Truman Proclamation being the major case in point, at a time when the international community was actively engaged in debate over the establishment of the law of the sea. Maritime jurisdictional rights became a widely accepted concept by the international community with the establishment of Exclusive Economic Zones in the 1970s, and became official with the enactment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. Therefore, the declaration of the Peace Line was not an irresponsible act, as Japan so claims, but an act that was fully in line with the development and transformation of international norms then.

8. Dokdo: a Bombing Range for the U.S. Army

During the Korean War, the United States Forces designated Dokdo as an area for military exercises and training. The United States wished to continue using the island in 1952, but the Joint Committee as stipulated in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) acquiesced to the requests of Japanese fishermen who wished to fish in the areas near Dokdo, and excluded Dokdo from its training areas. Japan insists that this incident clearly demonstrates that Dokdo belongs to it.

The idea that the U.S.-Japan SOFA or the Joint Committee could dictate the sovereignty of Dokdo is in itself extremely irrational and illogical, and the Korean government did not remain silent over such illogicality. Even during the commotion of war, the Korean government, upon hearing the news that the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee was planning to use Dokdo for military exercises, strongly protested to the U.S. Air Force commander and received an official letter in February 1953 that said Dokdo was excluded from use in military training. Therefore, Japan's argument in relation to the U.S. Force's use of the island as a bombing range again fails to prove its ownership of Dokdo.

9. Reference to the International Court of Justice

The incorporation of Dokdo in 1905, as was shown above, was a clear act of imperialist invasion, and all of the Japanese claims are the result of distortion and cover-up of history. Far from showing any remorse over its history of invasion and colonialism, Japan has instead insisted that Korea take the issue of sovereignty of Dokdo before the International Court of Justice.

However, there is no reason whatsoever for Korea to bring the issue to the International Court of Justice when Dokdo so clearly belongs to Korea from the perspective of history, geography, and even international law.

The reason why Japan wants the issue taken to the International Court of Justice is simple: Japan would gain an enormous political advantage by standing at the Court on equal footing with Korea. Since Japan has neither sovereignty nor control over the island, it has nothing to lose even if it goes to Court. It is interesting to note, however, that China has recently intensified its claims to the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyutai currently under the effective control of Japan, but Japan has not demanded that the issue be brought to the International Court of Justice.



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