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Our Man in Tokyo
Korean Dokdo Actions Smack of Election Year Desperation by Lee Myung-Bak
Special Contribution
By Mark Buckton
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak poses for camera on South Korea's Dokdo Islet on August 10, 2012.

It is no surprise Japan and South Korea are once again bickering over a few small islets in seas between the two nations (known in Japan and around the world as the Sea of Japan, and in Korea as the East Sea).

The so-called Dokdo (Japan calls it Takeshima) has been simmering just under the surface in Japanese-Korean relations for around a year, and things are now, with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak facing an election in early 2013, coming to a head.

Both nations claim the islands which are currently inhabited by a detachment of South Korean police to deter a Japanese landing, and, if historical records are properly researched, the Korean* claim does seem to hold more water; existing documents from the Japanese Edo-era (1603-1867) have the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate indicated the islands were an extension of Ulleung-do, an undisputed Korean island.

Japan meanwhile is basing her own claims on much more recent documentation from the early 20th century when relations across the East Sea were starting to deteriorate.

That neither nation expressed much of an interest in the islands prior to the discovery of rich fishing grounds nearby in the 1950s is also telling, and just to throw a little geographical anomaly into the mix, the islands are actually closer to the Japanese mainland than the Korean Peninsula – 211km to Honshu as opposed to 215km to Korea proper.

Discussions on whichever nation truly owns the islands, however, is now taking a backseat to continual threats, and insults being traded by the two countries following some rather questionable and ill-thought out actions by the aforementioned Lee, as well as South Korean football players, and actors of late!

First it was a visit by the South Korean president to the islands just hours prior to a South Korean football player at the Olympics purposely raised a placard calling Dokdo Korean territory (following a victory over the Japanese U23 side).

Next, a team of Korean swimmers including one popular singer have started a relay to the islands, leading to a show featuring the singer being dropped by a Japanese TV station.

Tokyo’s ambassador to Seoul was then clocking up the air miles having been recalled, and Japan have even asked the International Court of Justice to adjudicate on right and proper island possession.

Korea has interestingly responded to this latter desire on the part of Tokyo with disdain — by refusing to participate.

And so, despite posters being distributed throughout the Tokyo transport network claiming Japanese sovereignty over the islands, Korean swimmers still in the sea at time of typing, and largely empty rhetoric bouncing back and forth between Seoul and Tokyo, what has either side achieved in advancing the issue thus far bar sore chests from all the beatings applied of late?

If Korea is fully confident of its claims to Dokdo, why not go to court to embarrass Japan on the global stage by showing them just ridiculous their claims are?

If Japan see their own claim as holding more water than that of Korea, why not be the bigger man in the argument and invite Lee to Tokyo to discuss the issue further, while pointing out the importance of bilateral business ties that Korean would be want to risk severing?

Election year brings out the worst in many candidates in many countries, but this time, South Korea are being a little bit too vocal and too provocative. The longer Lee’s government refuses requests for diplomatic discussions, the more the global community will sympathize with Tokyo.

For their part in the affair, North Korea, still technically at war with the South, have said they support the claim against Japan. The United States have previously indicated their government legally recognising the Japanese claim although they have refused to take sides in the current spat.

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Mark Buckton, a Tokyo-based freelancing journalist contributes his articles to a number of world's noted newspapers including The Seoul Times.






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