Japan from the inside out

Shimojo Masao (11): Ignorance and incomprehension

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 9, 2010

JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA are currently embroiled in a dispute over the territorial rights of the Takeshima islets (the Liancourt Rocks) in the Sea of Japan. Takeshima became subject to dispute between the two countries on 18 January 1952, about three months before the Treaty of Peace with Japan was to take effect, and the country defeated in war was to return to international society. The South Korean government proclaimed the existence of the Syngman Rhee Line in international waters, and Takeshima was on the Korean side of the line.

From the perspective of historical fact, Takeshima was Japanese territory under the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture. In 1905, the Liancourt Rocks, which were technically terra nullius, were given the name Takeshima. Japan continued to effectively rule the area until its defeat in World War II. The South Korean government unilaterally claimed it as Korean territory and occupied it by force in September 1954.

The Japanese government proposed to the South Korean government on 25 September 1954 that the case be taken to the International Court of Justice, but the South Korean rejection of the proposal barred the path to resolution through dialogue. That is where the matter stands today, as Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution says the people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”. The resolution of the Takeshima issue was hopeless as long as the South Koreans would not come to the negotiating table and conduct talks.

The path to discussions opened again in 1994 when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea came into effect. It became necessary to establish a median line and an Exclusive Economic Zone in accordance with international rules. Therefore, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance creating Takeshima Day in 2005, 100 years after the islets were incorporated into the prefecture, to establish its territorial rights.

This met with the fierce objections of then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyon and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon (now UN Secretary-General). The South Korean government formulated as a state measure the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia, now known as the Northeast Asian History Foundation, and began promulgating anti-Japanese propaganda internationally.

They have used the comfort women issue and the issue of the name of the Sea of Japan (which they call the East Sea) to put a lid on Japanese moves to claim territorial rights to Takeshima by forcing a connection between Shimane Prefecture’s incorporation of Takeshima in 1905 with Japanese rule over the Korean Peninsula that began in 1910, and characterizing Japan as an invading country. As a result, the Takeshima issue has become known internationally. But this South Korean historical awareness, which is not based on historical fact, has caused confusion in the international community.

They have also taken out full-page ads in the New York Times and Washington Post claiming that Takeshima is Korean territory, as well as purchased advertising promoting their view of Takeshima on outdoor electrical signboards in New York’s Times Square. After Koreans in the United States bought advertising on billboards along Los Angeles expressways claiming that Takeshima was Korean territory, the Japanese embassy demanded that they be taken down. That resulted in an escalation of the activities of Koreans in the U.S., who thronged to the Japanese consulate to demonstrate.

It is not a fact that Takeshima was historically Korean territory, however, and the historical basis claimed by South Korea is in error. On 15 April this year, Chung Mong-joon, the president of the ruling Grand National Party of South Korea, visited Japan to gave an address. He claimed, “Takeshima has been Korean territory since the Silla period,” and added the criticism that, “The voices of the nationalist politicians in Japan are growing louder, which should be a matter of concern.”

There is no basis for Mr. Chung’s statements.

Chung Mong-joon thinks that Takeshima has been Korean territory since the Silla period because of a section in the Samguk Sagi (Chronicle of the History of Three Countries; i.e., Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) written in the 12th century. That section claims the territory of Usan was part of the Silla kingdom. The South Korean story is that the island of Ulleung and the subsidiary islets of Takeshima were part of Usan.

That interpretation of the text is incorrect, however. The South Koreans base their assertion that the Takeshima islets were a subsidiary part of Ulleung, and that Takeshima has been Korean territory since the sixth century, on a note included in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo (Explanatory Notes for Korean Documents), which was compiled in 1770. It contains this passage: “According to the Yeojiji (Topographical Records), Ulleung (island) and Usan (island) are all part of the Usan territory. Usan is therefore what the Japanese call Matsushima (now Takeshima).”

The note to the Dongguk Munheon Bigo, however, has already been demonstrated to have been an alteration of the original text added by an editor. The original wording of the Yeojiji says that “Ulleung and Usan are the same island”. Thus it is clearly a fact that Takeshima was neither a subsidiary part of Ulleung nor of Usan.

In addition, the 512 clause in Samguk Sagi defines the borders of Usan. It says the island is about 100 li wide, with the South Korean li being about 400 meters. The ancient Chinese characters used for this expression, however, are not an accurate measurement for the size of Usan. They refer only to the island of Ulleung. The Samguk Yusa compiled in the 13th century says that the circumference of Usan is about 48 kilometers, which is the same as that for Ulleung. Therefore, Takeshima, which lies about 90 kilometers to the southeast of Ulleung, was not a subsidiary part of Usan.

Despite the absence of a historical basis, Chung Mong-joon visits Japan and says, “The past that the victim remembers and the memory of the past for which the victimizer repents must conform.” Thus the Korean victimizer that invaded Takeshima criticizes the victim Japan. The proliferation of these irresponsible words and deeds is due to a lazy textual analysis. The arbitrary interpretation of the text is the responsibility of South Korean researchers.

Hosaka Yuji, a naturalized Korean born in Japan who has kept his Japanese name, argues the Korean position on Takeshima. He said in a newspaper interview, “Takeshima became Korean territory after the Usan territory, which ruled both Ulleung and Usan (Takeshima), surrendered to Silla in 512. There are many Korean and Japanese documents that attest to this fact.” This is a typical example of the arbitrary interpretation of the clause about the year 512 in the Samguk Sagi.

How then has the Japanese government responded to South Korea, which continues to illegally occupy Takeshima? When questioned about the Takeshima issue before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the lower house of the Diet this February, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya said, “I have decided in my heart not to use that expression (illegal occupation) so as not to elicit unneeded friction, and am conducting negotiations (in that way).” He has kept silent about the ongoing South Korean work to upgrade the heliport on the islets and to build maritime bases nearby.

Is this the intent of Prime Minister Hatoyama, who visited South Korea as DPJ secretary-general in May 2006? According to the October 2009 edition of the Monthly Chosun, Mr. Hatoyama was lectured for ninety minutes by the aforementioned Hosaka Yuji. The Japanese prime minister told then-Korean Prime Minister Han Myeong-suk, “All the territorial issues begin with history. It is necessary that I make an effort so that Japan has a more accurate understanding of historical fact in regard to the Takeshima issue.”

The South Koreans create a ruckus about Japanese historical distortions despite a far from satisfactory ability to read the relevant texts, and Japanese politicians in the DPJ administration have swallowed those South Korean claims whole. They themselves would cover up the fact that Japan was invaded. With this ignorance and incomprehension, has not the time come when it would benefit the people of both Japan and South Korea to have knowledge of that ignorance?

– Shimojo Masao

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4 Responses to “Shimojo Masao (11): Ignorance and incomprehension”

  1. TKYCraig said

    It is quite unbelievable that you have posted a blog entry relating to Takeshima/Dokdo/Liancourt and NO ONE has commented about it!!! You posted evening of 9-May, now afternoon of 13-May…almost 4 days without any pro-Korean rant to the effect of “Dokdo is ours” or any other attempt at a reasoned rebuttal of Shimojo Masao’s comments.

    What has the blogsphere come to!?!
    Thanks for the note. Some possible reasons:

    I let anyone say anything they like as long as there is no ad hominem against other posters. That takes one arrow out of their quiver.

    I don’t follow a lot of it on other sites, but apparently some of the South Korean sites delete pro-Japanese comments they don’t care for. I only delete personal insults and trolls, and only after warnings. There’s another arrow gone.

    Also, Japanese posters here defend their points of view well. And it’s difficult to go up against someone who is fluent in Korean and reads classical Chinese when a single photoshopped picture taken with a telephoto lens from a mountain top after months of trying is the best you can do.

    – A.

  2. toro said

    Bottom line—it’s simply about resources, otherwise what’s the big deal with a few rocks in the sea anyways. Maybe some natural gas or oil deposits around there?
    If it’s not resources then we need to cut it out with this, it’s just silly you know.
    And since they are smack in the middle between Korea and Japan, share them that’s all.

  3. Jon Allen said

    Why don’t they both do themselves a favor and donate the island to America to build an army/air force base on, since neither country likes having them on their own territory. It’s perfectly placed; surely?

  4. toro said

    There we go bingo move the dog gone Futenma there and shut up about it…especially with rogue North Korea now

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