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'Dokdo Day' And Korea-Japan Relationship

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

On Oct. 25, 2021, various conferences, concerts, and exhibitions were held again across Korea, even under the pandemic, to commemorate the annual Dokdo Day. Dokdo is Korea's easternmost island which is a group of small islets in the East Sea. On Oct. 25, 1900, the Korean Empire[Dahan Jaeguk] approved 'Imperial Decree No. 41' stipulating that Dokdo belongs to Korea and published it in the government's official gazette on Oct. 27, 1900. One hundred years later, Dokdo Day was designated in 2000 by several NGOs to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Emperor Gojong's official proclamation of the possession of Dokdo.

Music Video about Dokdo, 'ISLAND,' released on Oct. 2021

Why does Dokdo matter to Korean? Dokdo was the first Korean territory to fall victim to

Japanese colonial rule. Therefore, it symbolizes the recovery of Korean sovereignty even though it is only a group of rocky outcrops in the East Sea.

Numerous early Korean documents prove that Korea has ruled over Dokdo, and Koreans have perceived it as its distinct territory. For example, the ancient book "Samguk Sagi" (the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms) recorded that commander ISABU of Shilla Kingdom had conquered Usan-guk(Usan state) in 512 and subjugated it to Shilla. Usan-guk's main territory was Ulleungdo(Ulleung island), and Dokdo was attached to it. Since then, Koreans have managed their lives by fishing, collecting seafood around Dokdo for 1,500 years.

In recent years, the Japanese government has insisted that Dokdo(Takeshima in Japan) is an inherent part of the territory of Japan. However, it was not until 1905 that Japan recognized Dokdo and claimed jurisdiction of it forcibly. In 1695, the lord of Tottori-han(local government) in Japan sent an official reply that neither Ulleungdo nor Dokdo belonged to Tottori-han in response to the central government's inquiry. Afterward, the provincial government of Japan prohibited the Japanese from visiting Dokdo. In 1838, Tottori-han sentenced Japanese who secretly visited the Ulleungdo and Dokdo Islands to the death penalty.

The Tottori-han's submission(1695) ⓒNORTHEAST ASIAN HISTORY FOUNDATION

Due to geographic proximity, Dokdo has been naturally considered a part of Ulleungdo of Korea. Dokdo is only 87.4km away from Ulleungdo, and so we can see Dokdo with the naked eye on a clear day. In this regard, Koreans had consistently described Dokdo as a part of Korea in old literature. On the other hand, Oki island in Japan is 157.5km away from Dokdo. So, it is impossible to observe Dokdo from Japan, even with a telescope.

Dokdo From Ulleungdo ⓒPhotographer: Kwon Oh-Chul

On Feb. 22, 1905, Japan announced that it incorporated Dokdo into its territory, claiming the doctrine of terra nullius through "Simane Prefecture Public Notice No. 40." However, Japan's argument of terra nullius was invalid and illegal because Korea already firmly established territorial sovereignty over Dokdo five years ago in 1900. Furthermore, Japan's proclamation was posted at the corner of the local government's public notice, so even the Japanese could not know it. Moreover, Japan already knew that Dokdo was under Korea's sovereignty and Koreans lived in Ulleungdo and Dokdo. For example, according to the log of the Japanese warship 'Niitaka,' it is written that Korean residents living in Ulleungdo told the Japanese soldiers Dokdo's name and its jurisdiction of Korea.

Opening ceremony of Korea's guard post & boundary stone in Dokdo(1954)

In the process of settling postwar world order, Dokdo was restored as Korean territory. Accordingly, Korea has exercised legislative, administrative, and judicial jurisdiction over Dokdo. The Cairo Declaration of 1943 stated that "Japan will be expelled from all other territories taken by violence and greed." And the Potsdam Declaration of 1945 confirmed the Cairo Declaration. Also, the Allied Powers excluded Dokdo from Japan's territory through SCAPIN(Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Instruction) No. 677. Consequently, Dokdo was acknowledged as an integral part of the Republic of Korea by the Treaty of Peace with Japan(The San Francisco Treaty) of 1951.

Japan's far-fetched claim to Dokdo is harmful to the friendly relationship between Korea and Japan and jeopardizes regional peace and cooperation. Therefore, it is the first step for Japan to stop groundless argument about Dokdo to build future-oriented ties between Korea and Japan and develop peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

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