Dokdo Islands ? land of contention
After each visit to the Kuril Islands, journalists of The Vladivostok write about the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan over the four islets which since the end of World War II have prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty. However after a recent visit to the Island of Dokdo, it became clear that Japan’s territorial rows with South Korea are no less rigorous than those with Russia.
The Dokdo Islands consist of 37 islets, with only two of them, western and eastern islands situated 150 meters apart, considered major. Japan and South Korea both claim the islands, but Korea currently owns them.
Thirty eight coast guards serve in the islands for two months, and after this period they are all changed, Captain Lee Han-Seop, the current head of this small garrison, shared in an interview. “We do not feel isolated here because besides us live lighthouse keepers and several fishermen,” he added. “There is even a post box for mail,” Lee said pointing at it.
According to him, tourists regularly come to visit the islands. There is a ferry service from Ulleung-do, another South Korean Island, and in 2004 some 1,600 tourists visited the islands. The main attraction on this rocky piece of land is a place to view the sunrise ? for both North and South Korea the territory is geographically the most eastern point.
Although the islets themselves are hardly habitable, the waters surrounding them are rich with sea life, major catches for local fishermen consisting of squid. There have also been reports of possible natural gas reserves, but as of 2006 the expected reserves had not been discovered.
Pundits have diverging opinions as to who first had administrative control over the islets due to ambiguities in early historical records and maps, in turn caused by changes in the names of the islands in the area over the years.
The territorial clash started in 1905 when Japan incorporated the islands into its Shimane Prefecture. South Korea took control of them after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.
According to Lee, South Korea started to construct military installations in 1953, and in 1956 eight Korean coast guards started to stand guard over the territory. Since then the South Korean government has also built a radar station and helicopter landing pad on the islets, as well as a lighthouse.
“The territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan and over the Dokdo Islands between South Korea and Japan are very similar”, Professor of Law for Incheon University Lee Seokwoo said in an interview during a conference in Seoul dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention.
According to him, Russia and South Korea could coordinate in detail their positions in regard to the territorial disputes with Japan and have more consultations. “Even with North Korea we have a unified approach toward this issue, though in other fields we may completely disagree”, Professor Lee pointed out.\r\n\r\nIn April 2006 the dispute resurfaced brusquely when Japan dispatched two ships to the islets to conduct a maritime survey, and South Korea in response sent 18 patrol ships to the disputed territory. North Korea quickly declared its support for the actions of South Korea and was ready to dispatch its ships as well. The Japanese government did not perform the study.
“The Kuril Islands and the Dokdo Islands were aggressively taken by Japan at the start of the twentieth century. To solve the current disputes in the proper way the early history of the islands should be thoroughly studied”, Professor Lee suggested.
Vladivostok News, Russia
Date : Nov. 02, 2007
Writer : Andrei Ostrovsky