70th Anniversary of Takeshima Robbery – South Korea must put an end to illegal activities that even the U.S. does not recognize
Imagine being 74 years old and having spent 70 of those years sick or incapacitated.
This is what Japan-Korea relations are all about. Japan and the Republic of Korea have had a generally frosty relationship since the birth of Korea in 1948. In fact, it was not until 1965, 17 years after Korea’s independence, that a treaty was finally signed to establish basic diplomatic relations between the two countries.
There are many reasons for the cold relationship. While both countries bear part of the blame, Korea is clearly at fault in the Takeshima issue, one of the key issues.
This fact was clearly recognized by the international community at the time, especially the U.S., which is why I referred to the “70 years” at the beginning of this commentary.
Seventy years ago on this day, January 18, 1952, the first President of the Republic of Korea unilaterally declared the “Rhee Syngman Line,” proclaimed maritime sovereignty within the line, and stated that Takeshima and other islands and the sea around the Korean Peninsula all belonged to Korea.
The Japanese government, under Allied occupation, officially objected to this declaration ten days later. Unfortunately, Syngman Rhee’s declaration came a month before the start of negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea.The Peace Treaty Clearly Denied Korean Possession
Initially, Japanese officials thought the declaration was simply a ploy to prevent Japanese ships from invading their favorite fishing grounds or a tactic for future negotiations, but Korea had longer term goals for the islands they called Dokdo.
During the talks for the Peace Treaty with Japan (San Francisco Peace Treaty) concluded on September 8, 1951, Korea requested that Takeshima be included in the area to be separated from Japan, but the U.S. government refused.
In a response to the Korean government dated August 10, one month before the San Francisco Peace Conference, the U.S. State Department stated, “With regard to Dokdo Island, also known as Takeshima or Liancourt Rocks, our information indicates that this normally uninhabited rock has never been treated as part of Korea and has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands Branch Office of Japan’s Shimane Prefecture since about 1905. It has been under the jurisdiction of Japan’s Shimane Prefecture Oki Island Branch Office since about 1905. It appears that Korea has never been claimed for this island.
Thus, Article 2(a) of the Peace Treaty states. Japan recognizes the independence of Chosun and renounces all right, title and claim to Chosun, including the islands of Jeju, Geomun and Ulleungdo. Thus, Takeshima is not included.
This treaty was signed by almost all of the participating countries. South Korea, whose various demands were not met, withdrew from participation.
A few months before this international treaty came into effect, President Lee took the aforementioned unilateral step of declaring maritime sovereignty. Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States protested, and the U.S. government wrote that it was “deeply concerned about the content” of Korea’s sudden declaration.
Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy in Pusan at the time reaffirmed that Takeshima was indeed Japanese territory in a letter to Korea dated December 4, 1952.
Ambassador MacArthur’s Anger and Resignation A few months later, in February 1953, Korea began seizing Japanese fishing boats operating within the Lee Seung-man Line, shooting and killing the leaders of the fishing fleet, and in 1954, the year after the Korean War ended with the 1953 armistice and the end of hostilities on the peninsula, Korea officially occupied Takeshima.
These actions greatly troubled the U.S. government, which was a formal ally of the Republic of Korea and Japan. The U.S. government chose not to get involved and recommended that the two countries submit the issue to arbitration at the International Court of Justice (Japan did so in 1954, 1962 and 2012). South Korea has rejected Japan’s proposal.
During this period, the U.S. government came to the realization that as long as the Syngman Rhee administration continued, there was no hope of a solution.
In 1960, after the resignation of President Syngman Rhee following criticism of rigged elections, Ambassador MacArthur, nephew of General MacArthur, urged the new administration that spring to “return all hostages of Japanese fishermen who had been brutalized by Syngman Rhee’s uncivilized and oppressive actions” and “cease the practice of seizing Japanese fishing vessels on the high seas. The U.S. government should “use all of its influence to persuade” the State Department to “return all Japanese fishermen hostages who have been brutalized by Japan’s repressive and oppressive actions” and “cease seizing Japanese fishing vessels on the high seas. In doing so, Ambassador MacArthur argued, “the new South Korean government would not only be absolved of responsibility for hostage diplomacy, but above all it would lay the groundwork for fruitful negotiations with Japan.
Referring to Syngman Rhee’s “armed seizure and illegal possession of Takeshima, which has long been considered Japanese territory,” Ambassador MacArthur stated that “this is a very serious and permanent irritant in Japan-Korea relations, and unless this Japanese island is returned to Japan, there can be no full settlement between Korea and Japan. Therefore, we should pressure the new Korean government to return Takeshima to Japan.
However, MacArthur was not hopeful and said that at a minimum, pressure should be put on Korea to “agree to submit the matter to the International Court of Justice for arbitration,” as one U.S. delegation to the region had earlier recommended in 1954.
Unfortunately, South Korea’s refusal to budge is not limited to the Syngman Rhee administration, but has been consistent throughout.
What does South Korea think its national interest is? South Korea likes to blame Japan for many of the problems facing both Japan and South Korea, but first it needs to admit that it played a detrimental role, especially in the case of Takeshima. Hopefully, doing so will begin the long road to recovery from the sickness that Japan-Korea relations have been suffering from for decades.
At the hearing of Rahm Emanuel’s appointment as U.S. ambassador to Japan, specific instructions were given to promote better relations between Japan and South Korea. While there is a need to do so, he needs to know that in the case of Takeshima, the Korean side is clearly at fault in the 70-year-long dispute.
In Northeast Asia, where there are many unfriendly countries, Japan and South Korea, as democratic countries, should need each other. Surrounded by the “worst actors” in the world, if not the region, namely the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Russia, and with its access to the ocean blocked by the first island chain, South Korea should be in particular need of Japan. It also needs a free, open, and prosperous Taiwan. Therefore, cooperation with Japan is not only the right thing to do, but also the wise thing to do.
South Korea should start by undoing the damage it has done to its relations with Japan by renouncing its claim to Takeshima and instead pursue greater cooperation in the areas of security and economy.