Japan from the inside out

Shimojo Masao (19): The misapprehensions of the Takeshima issue

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

Japanese diplomacy in recent years has been the captive of territorial issues with neighboring countries and in a state of disorder from historical issues. The problem originated with two incidents.

The first was on 7 September 2010 when patrol vessels of Japan’s Coast Guard were deliberately rammed by a Chinese fishing boat. The other occurred on 10 August 2012. That was the date of the performance of President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, who became the first South Korean president to go ashore on Takeshima. Why did these incidents develop into historical issues, and why did they become diplomatic cards for use in condemning Japan? The reason is simple.

There is a tradition in China and South Korea for using historical issues as diplomatic cards. The negligence of the Japanese government means that their response has been as the two countries hoped. In fact, the Japanese government simplistically publicized dialogues about history textbooks and the comfort women without clarifying the actual state of affairs in the hope that the problems would blow over. As a result, they adopted the “neighboring country clause” in the 1980s that adopted a consideration of the wishes of neighboring countries when editing textbooks. They also issued the Kono Declaration about the comfort women that included a reference to the Japanese military, even though they were unable to confirm that the military engaged in compulsion.

The distortion of historical fact is a serious problem for South Korean history textbooks, however. South Korea claims it was Japan that seized Takeshima, when in fact the opposite is true. In regard to the comfort women, South Korean brokers operated comfort women facilities during the Korean War in the 1950s that UN forces patronized. Also, South Korean military forces that fought in the Vietnam War patronized comfort women facilities where Vietnamese women were employed.

While there is no question that the issue of war and sex is one that human society must overcome, that issue remains as part of the military base issue. American service personnel have repeatedly assaulted women both in Okinawa, where most of the American bases in Japan are located, and in South Korea.

In this context, South Korean claims about the comfort women issue differ from the actual circumstances. After then-LDP Vice-President Kanemaru Shin visited North Korea in the 1990s and raised the issue of postwar reparations, citizens’ groups in South Korea began calling for postwar reparations to resolve the comfort woman issue. What those groups seek is to recover the honor of the women by using the Japanese military. The South Korean government resolved that issue, however, with the 1965 treaty that normalized relations between that country and Japan.

The 1993 announcement of the Kono Declaration that incorporated South Korean considerations and referred to military involvement caused a significant change in the South Korean position. With the Japanese government’s recognition of military involvement, they demanded compensation from Japan and began to employ the international community as a stage to castigate the Japanese. President Lee’s demand for the resolution of the comfort woman issue and an apology from the Emperor in August 2012 was another South Korean government attempt to justify their occupation of Takeshima that has continued since 1954.

But the Takeshima issue is completely unrelated to the comfort woman issue. Why has it been argued that they are related? Here we should bring up a distinctive aspect of South Korean society today. Takeshima became Japanese territory with the Cabinet resolution of January 1905. Takeshima at that time was terra nullius, land unclaimed by any country. (That fact has now been validated.) The South Korean government seized it from Japan in January 1952 with its declaration of the Syngman Rhee (Yi Seung-man) line. That country’s government has tried to cover up the fact of that seizure by using the diplomacy card of past historical issues, including the comfort women and an Imperial apology.

South Korea seized the islets three months before Japan was to regain its standing in the international community with the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Japan’s Constitution prohibits the use of military force to resolve international disputes, and diplomatic negotiations with South Korea at the time would have been difficult. Using the Syngman Rhee line as a basis, the South Korean government engaged in hostage diplomacy by detaining and holding a total of 2,791 Japanese fishermen until relations were restored in 1965.

The Japanese government proposed to South Korea in September 1954 that it resolve the Takeshima dispute by taking it to the International Court of Justice, but the Koreans refused one month later. Instead, they claimed that Takeshima was “the first sacrifice in Japan’s invasion of Korea”. That’s because Japan incorporated the islets in 1905 and the two countries merged in 1910.

But the South Korean historical awareness is an interpretation of the past from a contemporary perspective. Therefore, it is inevitable that it would not be based on historical fact. This criticism of the past from a contemporary perspective and seeking a settlement is a cultural phenomenon that originates in party factional struggles during the Joseon period. Every time there is a presidential succession in South Korea, the old president is accused of crimes and an accounting sought. That involves the criticism of the previous administration by the person who is the head of the new administration. It is a means by which they emphasize their legitimacy.

At the end of his term of office, President Lee Myung-bak landed on Takeshima to win popular acclaim. The suicide of President Roh Moo-hyun was a tragicomedy that arose as a result of the political culture of the Korean Peninsula. From that milieu, South Korea has repudiated entirely the facts of Japanese rule. Driving their impulse to justify their nation-state is a tradition of criticizing the previous administration that has survived into the 21st century.

But it is not possible for a country that screams about Japan as an invader to justify its illegal occupation of Takeshima. That’s because there is no historical basis for the claim that the islets were Korean territory. The South Koreans claim that Takeshima was Korean territory 1,500 years ago. The grounds for that claim is the notation for 512 in the Samguk Sagi of 1145, a historical record of the three ancient kingdoms of Korea. It is recorded that the Usan territory was part of the Silla Kingdom. The South Koreans think Takeshima had to have been one of the ancillary islands of Usan.

But the notation for 512 in the Samguk Sagi and the Samguk Yusa of the late 13th century (a collection of legends and folktales about the Three Kingdoms) state that the Usan territory was the island of Ulleong. There is no mention of Takeshima being an ancillary island. To make the claim that Takeshima was an ancillary island of Ulleong, they quote a passage from the Yeojiji in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo, which dates from 1770. That passage reads, “Ulleong and Usan are all part of the Usan territory. Usan is therefore the Japanese (territory) Matsushima (now Takeshima).” Thus the chain runs from the 512 incorporation of Usan into the Silla Kingdom, and the idea that Takeshima was the island of Usan which was ancillary to Ulleong.

But the original text of the Yeojiji does not state that Usan was the Japanese territory of Matsushima. All it says is that Usan and Ulleong were the same island. The text quoted in the Yeojiji was rewritten in the process of being edited for inclusion in the Dongguk Munheon Bigo. Thus, South Korea has created a false history from text that was altered, and uses that as the basis for its claim that Takeshima was Korean territory 1,500 years ago. Therefore, South Korea has no historical title from which to claim territorial rights. They have mobilized the comfort woman issue and an Imperial apology to condemn Japan as an invader, and use that as the means to stifle Japanese objections. This can only deceive the international community.

The South Korean historical awareness that Takeshima was the first sacrifice of the Japanese invasion of Korea is a misapprehension that ignores history.

– Shimojo Masao, Takushoku University

One Response to “Shimojo Masao (19): The misapprehensions of the Takeshima issue”

  1. yankdownunder said

    the South Korean government engaged in hostage diplomacy by detaining and holding a total of 2,791 Japanese fishermen until relations were restored in 1965.

    During the period of January 18, 1952 (date of unilateral installation of Syngman Rhee Line) to June 22, 1965 (signing date of Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea), 328 Japanese fishing vessels were captured and 3,929 fishermen were abducted by South Korea. And, 44 Japanese fishermen were brutally murdered by South Korea.
    (wiki page about Dai Ichi Daihoumaru Ship)

    Japan should not just talk about why Takeshima belongs to Japan. The barbaric behavior of SK
    in regards to this matter should also always be stated. Otherwise SK will paint Japan as war monsters and SK as innocent victims which is a total lie.


    Ex S.Korean forced laborers file suit against govt.

    South Korea’s Constitutional Court last August ruled the government’s failure to negotiate compensation for so-called comfort women was a violation of the Constitution and of basic human rights.

    If the court hands down a similar ruling this time, the problem may become a new diplomatic issue between the 2 countries

    I am sure SK is already making a new statue for their newest victims that will be placed in front of Japanese embassy.

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