First of 2 parts
The year 2022 marks the 70th since South Korea unilaterally declared the “Syngman Rhee Line” in 1952, using it to seize control of Takeshima in Okinoshima Town, Shimane Prefecture. The unlawful occupation by South Korea that started in 1953 continues to this day.
Shimane Prefecture enacted an ordinance in 2005, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Takeshima’s incorporation into the prefecture and declared February 22 “Takeshima Day.” Since then, the prefecture has become the forefront of criticism by South Korea.
Is there a way to resolve the territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea?
The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward interviewed Kenji Fujii, a research advisor for the Takeshima issue in Shimane Prefecture, to share new information in ongoing research on the issue.
Excerpts of Mr. Fujii’s comments follow.
Mr. Fujii, what can you tell us about the documentary research revealing new findings, and their impact on Japan’s claims?
The Takeshima Issue has entered a new stage.
With the enactment of the “Takeshima Day” ordinance by Shimane Prefecture in 2005, the Japanese government has strengthened its efforts. The Office of Policy Planning and Coordination on Territory was established in 2014 and the Territory and History Center under the Japan Institute of International Affairs opened in 2017 with a subsidy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Japanese government also opened the Territory and Sovereignty Exhibition Hall in 2018, and strengthened its focus on disseminating Japan’s position through various means, including online platforms. This has been the same for South Korea.
Document research is essential in strengthening one’s claims.
At the request of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, I investigated documents relating to the San Francisco Peace Treaty at an overseas archive.
As is known, despite the requests made by South Korea, the United States had decided to leave Takeshima as part of Japan’s territory at the end of 1949, and informed the South Korean government of the decision in August 1951. These are known as the “Rusk documents.”
However, three months before the treaty came into effect in April 1952, South Korea unilaterally declared the “Syngman Rhee Line” and insisted that it would exercise sovereignty over a vast expanse of water.
The focus of the issue is Article 2a of the peace treaty, which states that “Japan recognizes the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the Islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet.”
South Korea tried to add Takeshima to these three islands, but their request was rejected by the United States.
South Korea is using an excuse that they were unable to provide a sufficient basis for their claims because it was the South Korean embassy in the United States that claimed Takeshima in July 1951. However, we also found a document that indicates that the government in Seoul itself requested the United States and Australia to render Takeshima to South Korea.
The document makes it clear that neither the embassy nor the government in Seoul could show the historical basis of their claims over Takeshima — that is, there was no proof that it was a South Korean territory before Japan’s reaffirmation of its territorial sovereignty in 1905.
South Korea explained to Australia that Takeshima is “located at a certain distance to the south of mainland South Korea.” The document confirmed the fact that South Korea requested Takeshima without any grounds, displaying its poor geographical recognition of the islands.
A South-Korean government-affiliated think tank called the Northeast Asian History Foundation insists that “the Rusk documents only reflect the opinion of the United States and not of all the Allied Powers and have no effect on the decision regarding the sovereignty over Dokdo” (the Korean name for Takeshima).
Certainly, at one point, a treaty draft submitted by the United Kingdom in consultation with the United States from April to May in 1951 had Takeshima removed from Japan’s territory. However, a new document finding has confirmed that Britain reported to the Netherlands that it had withdrawn the proposal.
We also found a document which was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand in 1953. It states that, “despite South Korea’s dissatisfaction, the treaty was signed at the end without amending Article 2a.” Both New Zealand and Australia, which was the source of information for New Zealand, had a common understanding that Takeshima remained a Japanese territory.
According to another document in which the United States summarized the opinions of each country regarding the treaty draft in August 1951, only South Korea requested the addition of Takeshima to Article 2a.
In other words, the document reaffirms Japan’s stance that “the request South Korea made in 1951 cannot have any effect on the decision of territorial sovereignty over Takeshima.”
South Korea, is far ahead of Japan in its domestic education on Takeshima, emphasizes that Japan’s assertion of territorial sovereignty over Takeshima in 1905 was an “aggression” against South Korea. This cannot be overlooked because it portrays Japan, which is the victim in the Takeshima issue, as the perpetrator.
No evidence has been confirmed that any government entity on the Korean Peninsula enforced administrative authority on Takeshima before 1905.
Moreover, it was the San Francisco Peace Treaty that determined the current territory of Japan, and Takeshima remained with Japan under that treaty. Japan must strongly communicate these facts.
If we accept South Korea’s claims, we will leave a debt for the future generations of Japan. That would be unfortunate for both Japan and South Korea.
Mr. Fujii is an advisor to the Takeshima Issue Research Institute organized by Shimane Prefecture. Born in Shimane Prefecture in 1955, he specializes in the history of modern-day Japan-Korean Peninsula relations. He is a member of the Takeshima Issue Study Group in Shimane Prefecture, a researcher at the Security Strategy Research Institute of Japan, and is the author of The Origin of the Takeshima Issue – The History of Postwar Japan-Korea Maritime Conflict (Minerva Shobo, 2018, in Japanese). His latest study includes “The Territorial Provisions of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and Takeshima,” which can be read on the website of Japan Institute of International Affairs.
Continues in Part 2
- Returning Takeshima is the First Step to Better Relations with Japan
- Embassy of Japan Refuses Moon’s New Year Gift Misrepresenting Takeshima
- Unearthed 1950s U.S. Navy Maps Show Takeshima Belonging to Japan
(Read the interview in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Hiroyuki Kobayashi