A long-standing dispute with Japan continues concerning which nation exercises sovereignty over a group of tiny islands located off the east coast of South Korea. The South Korean government refers to these islands as Tokto (Lonely Islands in Korean), but other sources refer to them variously as the Liancourt Rocks, the Hornet Rocks, or Takeshima (Bamboo Island in Japanese).
The Liancourt Rocks (known in the respective nations as the Tok-Do and Takeshima) in the southern part of the East Sea (otherwise the Sea of Japan). Territorial disputes between Japan and China (Senkakus/Diaoyutai), between Japan and Korea (Takeshima/Tokdo), and between Japan and Russia (Southern Kuriles/Northern Territories) are the nub of extant regional security concerns.
US policy on the Dokdo/Takeshima Island issue has been and continues to be that the United States does not take a position on either Korea’s claim or Japan’s claim to the island.
Dokdo, a group of tiny, rocky and hard-to-inhabit islets, is located some 87 kilometers east of South Korea’s Ullung Island and 157 kilometers northwest of Oki, Japan’s westernmost island. Dokdo (also known as “Liancourt Rocks” or “Takeshima”) consists of 34 islands created by volcanic activity. Dokdo is located 87.4km south-east to Uleungdo, 255.9km away from Pohang, and 157.5km away from the Japanese island Oki. The latitude of Dokdo is between 131°52’22” north and its longitude is between 37°14’24” east.
In Korea, Dokdo was called ‘Usando’, ‘Hajido’ and ‘Sambongdo’, and it is in the report of the governor of Ulleung-gun in 1906 where we can see Dokdo was called ‘Dokdo’. In Japan, it was in the 17th century that the name “Dokdo” appeared; at that time Ulleungdo was called ‘Jukdo’ and Dokdo was called ‘Songdo’. In modern times, the name “Songdo” disappeared, instead “Jukdo”, which was originally the name for Ulleungdo, became the name for “Dokdo”. The name ‘Dokdo’ appears for the first time in the Report of Sim Heungtak, the governor of Ulleung-gun in 1906. It is sometimes called “Dokdo” or “Tokdo” under different romanization standards. In 1849 French whale-hunters gave the name of their ship — Liancourt — to the islets.
There has also been a dispute over the name of the sea rich in fishing grounds where Dokdo lies. Korea insists it should be called “Donghae,” or East Sea in English, while Japan claims it should be “Sea of Japan.”
Japanese influence in East Asia began to rise rapidly in the 19th century. In 1905, Dokdo was the first part of Korean territory to be annexed by Japan, and in 1910, Japan annexed all of Korea. The Japanese colonizers instituted an official policy to suppress Korean culture, the cornerstone of which was to forcibly stamp out Koran language. This extended to changing the Korean names to Japanese, as well as converting local geographical names of Japanese.
So why are Japan and the ROK having a diplomatic spat over two rocks on the East Sea? These rocks the first piece of Korean territory that was annexed by Japan while Korea was still their protectorate before it was reduced to a colony by 1910. After the war, the ROK built lighthouses, and stationed coast guards to patrol the islands but allowed Japanese fishing fleets to fish alongside Korean fishing boats. It would not be a surprise for many that the Dokdo dispute did not become a serious issue until the late 1990s and the years of the new millennium once hydrocarbon (natural gas) reserves were discovered in the waters surrounding Dokdo.
With the discovery of untapped natural gas reserves, the rocks along with the surrounding areas, grew to greater importance than just a fishery. Japan started to make claims that it was Japanese territory called Takeshima that was illegally occupied by the Koreans and one prefecture even proclaimed a “Takeshima Day” much to the glee of right-wing Japanese nationalists. These moves were partly motivated by resurgent Japanese nationalism that was encouraged under Koizumi’s tenure and from the need to assert a new Japanese identity in a post-Cold War political atmosphere and from changing economics due to globalisation.
At the same time, the populist Uridang was swept into power in the Republic of Korea, whose policies were part anti-American, part pro-DPRK, and with a touch of “Corean” nationalism. There is a popular sentiment among newer generations of Koreans that it is America’s fault that their peninsula is divided, that North Koreans are just like them, and all their modern ills are due to Chinese and Japanese meddling in their domestic culture and affairs. With these attitudes in mind, the Uridang has decided to expose all Korean citizens who are descended from Chinilpa (Japanophiles) who proudly collaborated with the Japanese during the colonial era as well as use Dokdo to stir up “Corean” nationalism to the point where pensioners volunteered to live there and Korea Telecom even installed fixed lines, mobile stations, and Wi-Fi hubs across the two rocks.
There are those who will automatically disagree with me and say “It’s Takeshima” on instinct while there are those who will just say “give [Koreans] their stupid rocks” just to end this seemingly tense dispute. But nonetheless, Dokdo is Korean for all intents and purposes because the ROK has done everything in their power to secure their claim over the islands while at the same time it looks like Japan has brought this issue up for economic gain and promoting Japanese “patriotism”.
In all fairness, although they do not have the 4 Kuril islands or Dokdo, they were able to secure their claim over Senkaku from Taiwan Province. Although the Senkakus were considered part of Taiwan Province, American ignorance allowed Japan to claim it as part of Okinawa. Additionally, the Japanese government has secured their claim over the Senkakus by building lighthouses in the island chain and sending out coast guards to regularly patrol and occasionally harass fishermen from Taiwan Province.
So far, the Taiwan Provincial government has remained silent on the issue, but the President did send out his Defence Minister and a LY Opposition leader on a Taiwan Province Navy ship to visit the islands. However, the former leader of Taiwan Province, Lee Teng-Hui (Ri Toki) has publicly stated that the “Senkaku belong to Japan”, which reaffirms the Japanese claims to the islands. Taiwanese independence activists tend to avoid this subject when questioned by critics how Taiwan can defend against Chinese aggression when it can’t even confront their Japanese “allies” over a minor dispute.
Japan = 1-1; Korea = 1-0; Taiwan Province = 0-1
Dokdo still belongs to Korea and the Senkaku are Japanese.