Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Yuji Hosaka, Ph.D. Political Science
Professor at Sejong University, Seoul Korea
I am a Japanese Korean who nationalized as a Korean in 2003 after 15 years of residency in the country. My research on Dokdo started in 1998 and has been ongoing to this day for 14 years. The author’s analysis is based mostly upon the arguments of Japan and Korea through the writings of key scholars and the major positions of both governments. The analysis finds attempts by the Japanese government and scholars to conceal and distort official documents in which Dajokan, the highest power in Japan in 1870 and 1877 concluded that Ulleungdo and Dokdo islands are part of Korea, thus acknowledging Korea’s sovereignty over these islands.
The Japanese government has continuously evaded queries regarding the Dajokan Order with the reply “It is under investigation.” The Japanese government is keen to hide and distort the Order lest it be ruled as valid and effective should it ever be submitted in the court as Japan’s mainstream legal ruling is that all Dajokan orders continue to be legally effective unless there is another order negating the relevant order. But social studies teachers’ union of Hokkaido in 2008 and in Tokyo 2009 September released statements, based upon this Order, acknowledging Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo.
An event on August 24 in which Prime Minister Noda explained to the Japanese National Diet in three key points why Dokdo is Japanese territory was broadcast live worldwide with the purpose of maximizing the propaganda effects, but instead exposed the limits of their logic. The Prime Minister’s logic is completely overturned by the aforementioned Dajokan Order: that the Japanese had established sovereignty over Dokdo in the mid 17th century.
A question the Samurai-led Edo shogunate posed in January 1696 to the governor of Tottori-han (present day Tottori Prefecture) who frequented Ulleungdo and Dokdo reveals that the Edo Shogunate was not even aware of Dokdo’s existence, thus annulling any claims of sovereignty rights in the mid 17th century including those made by the Prime Minister Noda. Dokdo issue was completely cleared by the end of the 17th century when Japan at the time confirmed Joseon’s sovereignty over Dokdo, yet Japan once again raised issues with the island.
Japan shows a self contradictory behavior when on the one hand, it asserts that Dokdo at the time was terra nullius, while on the other it puts forth an unreasonable assertion that it has incorporated Dokdo within its Shimane Prefecture based upon occupation. Japan from then onwards started to exchange deals with the superpowers with the objective of overtaking the whole of Korea, not just Dokdo, including Taft-Katsura Agreement of August 1905 and the Treaty of Portsmouth with Russia. Japan having silenced all the superpowers was now able to force at will Eulsa Treaty upon Korea in November 1905 depriving the country of all its diplomatic power. This is the historical context at the core of the Dokdo matter where plundering was undertaken by the Japanese military who went on to pillage Dokdo and the entire Korean peninsula.
The Japanese Prime Minister Noda however denies this historical aspect of Dokdo Issue, qualifying the matter to a territorial one. This is much to the resentment of the Koreans who still retain a memory of the history of Japanese invasion. Evidence after evidence is emerging, contrary to the claims of the Japanese, to prove that Korea indeed had effective sovereignty over Dokdo before 1905. Thus, Dokdo was not terra nullius before 1905 because it had an owner, namely Korea. This completely annuls Japan’s claim of sovereignty over Dokdo based upon its 1905 “occupation of ” terra nullius.
Prime Minister Noda puts forth as the third reason for Japan’s sovereignty of Dokdo the refusal by the US Department of State of Korea’s request to include Dokdo within the Treaty articles relating to Korea’s territorial sovereignty when the San Francisco Peace Treaty was being drafted in July 19, 1951. The sole view of the US without the consensus of the Allied Powers does not constitute the conclusion of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It is appropriate that Japan be accused for its attempts to distort the fact by willfully expanding and exaggerating the views of the US at the time. In the meantime, no country demanded that Korea has to depart from Dokdo as Dokdo is Japanese territory. All Allied Powers have de facto acknowledged Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo which has continued since 1945. The US also has changed its position since 1954 with the United States Board on Geographic Names recognizing Korea as the country exercising sovereignty over Dokdo.
As Japan's claim of sovereignty over Dokdo is wrong, Korea has no basis to assent to Japan's referral of the Dokdo issue to the ICJ. Japan is urged to immediately halt its unjust assertions and actions and renew itself for the peace and prosperity of Asia.