Seoul’s choice: Busan or Takeshima
Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 21, 2008
SOON OR LATE, South Korea will have to choose which paradigm to apply for its relations with Japan. They have two choices, both of which can be represented by geographical entities.
One choice is Busan, a city of more than three million on the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula. It lies only 140 miles away from Fukuoka City in Kyushu across the Sea of Japan. Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands and has a population of roughly 13 million people.
The other choice is Takeshima, a group of islets in the Sea of Japan claimed by both countries. (The South Koreans call the islets Dokto.) The islets have a combined area of 187,450 square meters, or 46 acres. In contrast, Central Park in New York City covers 843 acres.
The Busan Choice
Cross-strait relations between Busan and Kyushu have thrived for more than a millennium. The interaction between Kyushu and southeastern Korea was so extensive that some scholars in both countries consider the region as a whole to have been one cultural sphere. The sea route between the two areas was the avenue through which Chinese culture entered Japan. Until the end of the 8th century, Kyushu (and the Japanese imperial court) interacted more extensively with the Baekche and Silla kingdoms than it did with the Japanese northeast.
Today Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city and most important port. It is the hub of Korean logistic operations, has an advanced commercial and industrial infrastructure, and is the center of the country’s offshore fishery industries.
Meanwhile, Kyushu accounts for 10% of Japan’s GDP. Standing alone, the region’s GDP exceeds that of both The Netherlands and Australia.
Earlier this month, it seemed as if the South Koreans under new President Lee Myung-bak would put the demagoguery of predecessor Roh Moo-hyun behind them and choose the Busan paradigm. One of Mr. Lee’s campaign promises was to support the creation of a super-regional economic zone that would include both Busan and Kyushu.
Two weeks ago, he met with a group of representatives of regional Japanese newspapers, including President Kawasaki Takao of the Nishinippon Shimbun, to discuss bilateral ties. He told them his government planned to hold discussions in the second half of the year to begin the steps to create the economic zone.
It was the first time Mr. Lee mentioned the scheme publicly since the election. He said:
“Korean-Japanese relations will develop with the formation of a joint economic zone. Busan and Kyushu in particular are already an economic zone, so we look forward to its realization in concrete terms.”
The private sector and local governments in both countries have pushed the idea for several years, but real hope for its success emerged when the South Korean government said it would make it their official policy.
The president also said that regional competition would benefit South Korea by stimulating domestic competition. He added that Busan-Kyushu ties were a win-win relationship with great potential. During his campaign, he asserted that real exchange with Kyushu was necessary to make the greater region competitive with Seoul, Tokyo, and Shanghai.
He envisions a super-regional economic zone contributing to the growth of venture capital-funded firms and technology transfer centers. It would become a center for financial markets and region-specific financing, and enhanced cooperation in tourism and cultural exchanges.
For leaders in business, academic, and government circles in both regions, Mr. Lee was preaching to the choir. They’ve been getting ready for just this opportunity for a long time. Here are some steps taken just before and just after Mr. Lee’s press conference with the Japanese.
- Business and academic leaders formed the Fukuoka-Busan Forum in 2006. It has been meeting regularly to examine policies for strengthening ties and creating a super-regional economic zone. It met again at the end of last month.
- At a meeting in Busan on 24 June, Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik and Fukuoka City Mayor Yoshida Hiroshi agreed to issue a joint declaration in August calling for the creation of a super-regional economic zone encompassing Kyushu and the southeastern part of South Korea. They also planned to continue meetings to establish a set of priorities for the effort.
- Universities from both regions made arrangements to form a consortium this August for the mutual recognition of academic credits.
- Last week on the 16th, the Kyushu Investment Support Association was launched with the participation of 20 companies and groups from Japan and South Korea to provide assistance to South Korean companies wanting to establish a presence in Kyushu. Association members include the Fukuoka City-based Kyushu Economic Federation, the Fukuoka City branch of the South Korean Shinhan Bank, and the Nishi-Nippon City Bank. South Korean companies are boosting their investments in Kyushu’s manufacturing industry, so the association brings together professionals from such fields as Japanese law, intellectual property rights, and employment to provide those companies with expert information.
According to the Shinhan Bank, the sharp increase in companies wanting to invest in Kyushu has been driven in part by the appreciation of the won. The bank plans to set up Kyushu Investment Support Centers in all its branches this month.
- The Kansei Value Creation Department of Kyushu University’s User Science Institute announced it will conduct joint research with Dongseo University of Busan. Their objective is to improve the design of four transportation hubs in both countries to create more aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically efficient facilities. One will be the international terminal at the Port of Hakata. The researchers also expect to employ new survey methods to discover the potential needs of the facilities.
- As it is, more than 800,000 people now use the Port of Hakata every year to travel by high-speed jetfoil to Busan. The service is so successful that a new sea route to Busan was opened in June from the Port of Moji in Kitakyushu immediately to the north.
- Finally, Korean Air Lines announced it will add another daily round-trip flight between Fukuoka City and Busan starting 1 September. The airline already operates one daily round-trip. The additional flight will allow more businesspeople in Fukuoka to commute to Busan for day trips on the 50-minute flight. The route is frequently used by personnel from Japanese businesses in Kyushu from the auto parts and steel industries.
The Korean About-Face
One week after Mr. Lee met with the reporters, however, the Korean attitude abruptly changed when the Japanese education ministry added a couple of sentences to its curriculum guidelines.
The ministry’s instruction manual for teachers, which is due to take effect in 2012, directs them to handle “the Northern Territories as part of our nation’s territory.” That is a reference to the four Japanese islands seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in World War II. The manual also asks teachers “to provide a deeper understanding of our nation’s territory” by handling the Takeshima islets “in a manner comparable to that used in dealing with the Northern Territories.” It also suggests that the teachers discuss the conflicting territorial claims between Japan and South Korea.
This is the first mention of the Takeshima issue in the manual. The phrasing in the final version was softened to avoid ruffling Korean feathers by stopping short of calling Takeshima “an integral part of our nation’s territory.” The South Koreans, however, had asked Japan not to mention Takeshima at all.
South Korean Unilateralism
South Korea currently occupies the islets in violation of international law. As part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty at the end of World War II, Japan was forced to relinquish specified territories it seized or colonized in the first half of the 20th century. It was allowed to keep the remaining unspecified territories, Takeshima among them.
But the South Koreans occupied Takeshima on 2 September 1954 using military force. Japan did not resist, and the Koreans knew they would not; the Japanese Constitution relinquishes the right to use military force for national aims. (The Japanese cannot even agree if they have the right to self-defense; the Defense Ministry claims it does because it is not specifically denied in the Constitution. Speaking of this ambiguity, Defense Minister Ishiba said at a press conference, “…if the case occurred tomorrow that a suspicious boat appeared off the coast of the Noto Peninsula, there would arise the question: ‘Shall we chase after it as a violation of the Fisheries Law again?’”
Japan suggested that the two countries submit the case to the International Court of Justice, but the South Koreans refused. For them, it seems, might makes right.
They have been more accommodating at times. Five months before the Japanese and the South Koreans signed the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations restoring ties between the two countries, the governments reached a secret agreement about Takeshima.
The agreement stipulated that:
- Both countries recognized that the other claimed the islets as their own territory, and neither side would object when the other made a counterargument.
- They would regard it as a problem that would have to be resolved in the future.
- If any fishing territories were demarcated in the future, both countries could use Takeshima as their own territory to mark the boundaries. Those places where the two lines overlapped would be considered joint territory.
- The status quo in which South Korea occupied the islets would be maintained, but the Koreans would not increase their police presence or build new facilities.
- Both countries were to uphold that agreement.
Rather than abide by the agreement, however, South Korea stationed security guards on Takeshima and increased its presence, adding lodgings, a lighthouse, a monitoring facility and an antenna. In November 1997, despite repeated protests by Japan, they built a docking facility to enable use by a 500-ton supply ship. They built a manned lighthouse in December 1998.
The secret agreement was reported by the South Korean monthly magazine Joongang last year. The magazine also reported that the only copy of this agreement was burnt when it was discovered among President Park Chung-hee’s papers after his assassination.
In contrast to the bellicosity and lack of respect for diplomatic convention demonstrated by the South Koreans over the years, Japan’s approach has been markedly benign. To have teachers simply bring up the Japanese claim in the school curriculum—starting four years from now—while also mentioning the Korean claim, is neither belligerent nor an insult to Korean statehood.
The Takeshima Choice
South Korea stands to reap substantial benefits from continuing to strengthen ties with Japan, yet their response to the mild revisions of the instruction manual–none of their business to begin with–could be characterized by calling it the Takeshima paradigm. Their actions in the week since then resemble nothing so much as a group of high school students restaging the Marx Brothers’ political satire Duck Soup, this time as a soap opera.
In his role as Rufus T. Firefly, the ruler of the mythical Freedonia, Groucho Marx created a running gag by reacting to anything and everything with the statement, “Of course you realize this means war!” Now consider the South Korean reaction.
- Their first step was to recall their ambassador to Japan, Kwon Chul-hyun, back to Seoul.
- The Japanese suggested that the foreign ministers of the two countries meet to discuss the issue. The South Koreans wouldn’t hear of it.
- In an astonishingly incongruous step, Seoul beefed up security around the islets, even though Japan has never used, or threatened to use, military force since the end of the war.
- Prime Minister Han Seung-soo went so far as to accuse Japan of risking regional peace over the issue.
“This is not only damaging the amicable South Korea-Japan relationship… but also undermining peace in Northeast Asia by letting the future generations repeat the distorted history,” Han said.
Rufus T. Firefly: “Of course you realize this means war!”
- The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry postponed indefinitely the discussions on a bilateral free trade agreement. President Lee and Prime Minister Fukuda agreed during an April summit to find a way to resume negotiations over an economic partnership agreement. That likely includes the economic zone in the south.
- South Korea’s ruling party now wants to build a hotel on the islets to show they aren’t really uninhabited. Unassisted survival is impossible there—no arable land, no water—but the Korean government foots the bill for keeping two people in residence.
The Koreans have let the issue affect other aspects of the bilateral relationship.
- The cities of Kitakyushu and Incheon were going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their sister city ties this summer. Not any more, they’re not. Incheon notified Kitakyushu that it would be unable to participate.
They sent a fax to the Kitakyushu municipal offices.
- Bucheon suspended its friendship activities with Okayama City. The two municipalities have sent delegations to each other since 2002. A 60-person group from Bucheon was scheduled to visit Okayama for three days in August. Not any more, they’re not.
The Okayama City mayor says the decision was regrettable, but hopes that the activities can resume in the future.
- The city of Tsushima in Nagasaki has held the Arirang Festival every year since 1980 to stage a recreation of the dispatch of Korean envoys to Japan. (Arirang is the name of a Korean folk song.) Representatives from their sister city, the district of Yeondo in Busan, were to participate, as they have every year. Not any more, they’re not.
Event organizers said they thought it was unfortunate that the South Koreans weren’t coming, but said they thought it was a temporary phenomenon and would wait until the fuss blows over.
- Tottori City has been conducting an exchange program for junior high school students with the city of Cheongju. This year, a group of South Korean junior high school students were scheduled to visit. Not any more, they’re not. Cheongju notified Tottori it would be unable to participate for the foreseeable future.
They sent a fax to the Tottori City municipal offices.
Said the Tottori mayor: “It’s regrettable that a political problem should interfere with the exchange of junior high school students.”
- The height of Duck Soup buffoonery was the step taken by Seoul Metro. They made Japan’s largest condom manufacturer remove its advertising from Seoul subway cars.
Said a Metro spokesman:
“Having condom ads in a public space might not be acceptable for some people. Secondly, there is an anti-Japanese sentiment brewing among citizens over the Dokdo issue.”
Rufus T. Firefly: “Of course you realize this means war!”
- Before Ambassador Kwon returned to Seoul, he visited the Japanese Foreign Ministry offices in Tokyo.
He told reporters:
“I lodged a strong protest and called for a prompt correction. I pointed out what was wrong and what Japan loses from this.”
Well, what does Japan lose from this? Closer ties were supposed to be a win-win situation, according to President Lee. Doesn’t the Korean response make this a lose-lose situation?
Except that South Korea loses much more than Japan does. It no longer has the opportunity to benefit from preferential economic ties with a nation that has more than twice as many people, and which also happens to be the world’s second-largest economy.
The creation of a super-regional economic zone would boost Busan’s domestic competitiveness as well as that of the two regions in East Asia.
On the other hand, Japan loses condom advertising in Seoul subways.
Perhaps the greatest loss suffered by South Korea is the loss of its credibility. Here’s a Korean Times article describing what’s happening around the world:
The U.S. Library of Congress, the largest library in the world that also serves as a research division for Congress, has been mulling over whether it should stop using the name Dokdo in its authoritative guidelines distributed to libraries around the country. (It is considering using) the name Liancourt Rocks (which) comes from French travelers who first introduced the East Sea islets to Europe…
Even in the online world, an increasing number of web sites are embracing the English name Liancourt Rocks over Dokdo….
Yonhap reported that as “a result of Japanese lobbying,” a growing number of Web sites and online references around the world are deciding to stop using the Korean name Dokdo when referring to the islets.”
Some of the major online dictionary sites and Internet portals that stopped using the name Dokdo include yahoo.com, reference.com, infoplease.com and aol.bartleby.com, Yonhap reported.
Yonhap of course did not report that South Korean lobbying was the reason those sites used the Dokto name to begin with. They also did not report that people around the world have grown so tired of bogus Duck Soup claims about Takeshima, the real name of the Sea of Japan (supposedly the East Sea), and the English spelling of Korea (supposedly Corea, thereby gaining an alphabetical edge), that Koreans are increasingly being tuned out.
Just imagine what would happen if the rest of the world found out the Koreans think the real name of the East China Sea is the West Sea.
Some sympathy must be extended to South Korean President Lee. His election represented a return of adult leadership to the Blue House and a mature approach to bilateral relations with Japan. But he likely feels compelled to shore up his popular support, which pancaked when his countrymen were infuriated by his decision to resume the import of American beef.
Clearly, he has to deal with a national polity that is immature and prone to tantrums, which limits his opportunities for statesmanship. He has warned politicians in the National Assembly not to use the issue for personal political advantage, but there’s not much he can do in the face of popular delusion.
His preference in bilateral relations with Japan must almost certainly be that of choosing the adult option of the Busan paradigm. How can he be held responsible for those of his countrymen who prefer the childish option of the Takeshima paradigm?
All he–and Japan–can do now is wait for the rest of South Korea to grow up and allow the natural trend for closer Busan-Kyushu ties to reassert itself on a larger scale.
However long that will take.