[Editorial] A historical response to Japan’s Dokdo crusade

Posted on : 2011-07-25 11:32 KST Modified on : 2011-07-25 11:32 KST

Three representatives and one councilor from a Japanese Liberal Democratic Party special committee on territorial issues have announced plans to visit Ulleungdo Island on Aug. 2 to tour the Dokdo Museum. Their aim is clear: to do whatever they can to draw attention to the Dokdo controversy and push it into disputed territory. Here in the South Korea, there have been divisions on how to respond.
Perhaps the most obvious fact is that this move coincides with a recent measure by the Japanese Foreign Ministry instructing employees not to use Korean Air for one month. This is far worse than has been seen in the past, as it seeks to take things beyond mere verbal claims from Japan about its territorial rights over Dokdo. In particular, the Diet members’ plans warrant criticism as a shameless ploy for drawing attention by deliberating picking a fight. Given that this is a country that has declared its hopes of becoming a permanent United Nations Security Council member, we hope to see Japan refraining for any base actions that it would be impossible to turn a blind eye to.
Minister for Special Affairs Lee Jae-oh initially responded to this by saying that he would use every organizational means available to prevent the Diet members’ Ulleungdo visit. He then said that he was considering plans for going to Dokdo himself to stand sentry. In legal terms, there are no means available for preventing Japanese Diet members from visiting Ulleungdo. And if we were to rashly declare plans to stop them, we would be stirring up controversy and walking into their treacherous trap.
Some are also saying we should volunteer to guide them through the Dokdo Museum on Ulleungdo. This, too, is a misguided notion. These people are not going to change their mistaken ideas just from seeing the museum, and this would merely serve to create the type of situation they are looking for. The best response is to just leave them alone, whether they come or not. There is no reason to create a spectacle by responding, nor is there any value in doing so.
Instead, we need to step up our historical response. In 2006, then-President Roh Moo-hyun delivered a full-on rebuttal of Japanese claims to sovereignty over Dokdo, calling this “a claim to rights over occupied territory from an imperialist war of aggression, and to rights over colonial territory.” But with a “quiet diplomacy” approach gaining ground under the Lee Myung-bak administration, the calls for a response to Japan’s claims have grown fainter. The fact that Japanese provocations with regard to Dokdo have become more frequent in recent years likely bears some connection with this.
In particular, Lee Jae-oh is both a Cabinet member and an associate of President Lee Myung-bak. It is time for Lee Jae-oh to raise the matter internally, leading to revisions in the government’s response and getting the president to make a clear statement. It is disheartening to see someone who is a Cabinet minister in name only behaving so rashly without any sense of the problem’s core.
Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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