Dokdo (Takedo Island) in 5 minutes: Feel the richness of meaning

From Seoul’s Incheon Airport, I boarded the airport light rail bound for the city of Seoul, and saw the scenery of Dokdo (called Takedo in Japan) and historical evidence of the territory of Korea being broadcast on TV. Walking on the streets of South Korea, in subway stations, museums, schools, government buildings, and various public places, you can see models of this island everywhere, expressing a strong sense of territory and national feelings. In the northern part of the peninsula, North Korea is also declaring its sovereignty over it, releasing the same feelings. In North Korea’s large-scale performances and publications, the island is hailed as “the wealth and pride of the Korean people.” This volcanic island at the eastern end of the peninsula has been endowed with too many practical interests, historical memories and national sentiments, and it has become a nerve that is often stinged in East Asian international relations.

Just five minutes is a precious memory
In the administrative plan, South Korea assigned the island to Dokdo-ri, Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and actually controlled the island; Japan also claimed sovereignty over it and incorporated it into Shimane Prefecture. Island Town. At present, South Korea has opened up a sightseeing route to this island. On the eve of Korea Liberation Day in 2015, I landed on this island as I wished.

Departing from Seoul, board a ferry to Ulleungdo in Gangneung City, Gangwon-do. About three hours later, we arrived at Ulleungdo in Gyeongsangbuk-do. Ulleungdo is also a volcanic island. The coast is full of cliffs. There are “three nos and fives”. It is said that since ancient times, there have been no robbers, pollution, snakes, fragrant trees, wind, beauty, water, and rocks. Ulleungdo is 92 kilometers away from Dokdo. After spending a night on Ulleungdo, I got on the ferry to Ulleungdo in the morning. It was another three hours of sea bumps, and the weather was rainy and sunny. Most of the Koreans who accompanied them were elderly, and they all prepared a lot of banners, waiting to be displayed at the moment of landing on the island. But listening to the tour guide said that due to wind and waves, it is difficult to be sure that you can go to the island, the most likely is to go around the island. At this time, it was almost noon, and the two small islands gradually appeared in the vast sea. The Korean tourists on the same boat began to exclaim and wave their hands. As the boat approached, they heard good news: they could board the island, although it only took five minutes. South Korean flags are planted all over the island, and the landmarks of “the easternmost point of the Republic of Korea” are also marked. At present, there are a Korean couple, 33 guards, three lighthouse guards, and two employees of the Dokdo Management Office of Ulleung County Office. Some seniors among South Korean tourists shed tears and opened banners with the words “Dokdo: Our Territory” and shouted slogans. Just five minutes is a precious memory for every tourist. Returning to the ship, starting to circle the island, the East Island and West Island have a panoramic view. You can see the hiking trails and residential facilities of West Island, the network satellite base station and lighthouse facilities of East Island. The caves on the two islands have different postures, and vegetation covers the entire island. Korean tourists introduced to me that this island is rich in aquatic products and underground resources, and the ancient Koreans first explored it here. With a flick of a finger, the island disappeared on the horizon.

Historical disputes and national sentiments
This long sea journey made me truly feel the territorial consciousness and national feelings of the Koreans. South Korea-Japan relations have long been fettered by historical issues, and one of the manifestations is the struggle for ownership of this island. As everyone knows, the Korean peninsula has a strong anti-Japanese complex, especially in modern history, Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula and cruel colonial rule have left deep marks on the north and south of the peninsula. For a long time, South Korea, North Korea and Japan have claimed sovereignty over this island, and both have shown a tough attitude and stand.

After the Second World War, the Supreme Command of the Allied Forces in Japan issued the “United Nations Supreme Command Order No. 677.” Article 3 stipulates that “Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and Jeju Island do not belong to Japanese territory.” Exclude the island from Japanese territory. The new dividing line is called the “MacArthur Line” and becomes the “area of ​​responsibility of the 24th US Army.” On September 8, 1951, when Japan and the Allied Forces signed the “San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan”, although South Korea and North Korea were not parties to the treaty, Japan finally recognized the independence of the Korean Peninsula. Before the signing of the treaty, South Korea and Japan were actively lobbying the Truman government to maintain its sovereignty over Dokdo. But the wishes of both sides have not been realized. The then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “According to our information, since around 1905, (Dokdo) has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki Island Office of Shimane Prefecture, Japan. Regarding the island, there is no previous discovery. North Korea has put forward a claim on possession rights”, which explicitly denies South Korea’s claim. However, South Korea believes that “Although Dokdo is not explicitly mentioned in the provisions of the San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan, it does not mean that the Korean territory delimited from Japan does not include Dokdo.” Therefore, the official position of South Korea is basically that “Dokdo is undoubtedly an inherent territory of South Korea based on history, geography, and international law. Dokdo does not have territorial disputes, and it cannot be included in diplomatic negotiations or attempted to be resolved by judicial means; the South Korean government firmly does not The relocation exercise of Dokdo’s territorial sovereignty, the Republic of Korea currently exercises Dokdo’s indisputable territorial sovereignty in the legislative, administrative, and judicial aspects.

Five minutes on the island.

Group photo with the South Korean Coast Guard stationed on the island.

The “Eastest End of the Republic of Korea” logo.

Lighthouse on the island.

Circle the island.

Circle the island.

In January 1952, South Korea’s Rhee Seungman government issued a statement on South Korea’s sovereignty over territorial waters. In the statement, South Korea announced that it has national sovereignty over the ocean within the “Ree Seung Man Line”, thus beginning to take actual control of the island. In the following years, South Korea and Japan had many conflicts surrounding the island, and the fishermen of the two countries and the coast guards of the two countries were successively involved. In 1965, the governments of South Korea and Japan signed the “South Korea-Japan Basic Treaty”, which officially normalized relations between the two countries. The issue of ownership of the island is the main focus of the negotiations. The final text of the treaty did not involve territorial issues, and territorial disputes were put on hold. In 1996, disputes over the ownership of the island broke out again. At that time, both Japan and South Korea ratified the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” and declared their respective exclusive economic zones. According to their claims, both countries listed the island as their sovereign territory. This once again led Japan and South Korea to blame each other, and the quarrel intensified. After two years of exchanges, on October 9, 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung signed the “New South Korea-Japan Fishery Agreement” with Japan during his visit to Japan. Although he avoided the dispute over the establishment of exclusive economic waters, the vast waters near the island Designated as “intermediate waters” (referred to as “tentative waters” in Japan), the “intermediate waters” are managed by the Korea-Japan Joint Fisheries Committee. The two governments continue to defend their claims on territorial rights. Since the signing of this agreement, there has been continuous criticism from the South Korean people. Some civil organizations have accused the new fisheries agreement as “the South Korean government’s betrayal of the nation and the cause of the country.”

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the territorial dispute surrounding the island has been heating up between South Korea and Japan. Successive South Korean governments have actively promoted sovereignty over the island. On July 29, 2008, South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo visited the island. On July 30, South Korea conducted a large-scale naval and air military exercise in the waters near the island. In 2010, the Ministry of Education of South Korea required that starting from the first new semester in 2013, Korean elementary, middle and high schools will add 10 hours of “Dokdo Education” every year. Page increased to 4 pages”. In August 2012, South Korean President Lee Myung-bo boarded the island to declare sovereignty. Japan strongly protested, and Japan-South Korea relations, which had been eased, immediately fell into trouble. After that, the Japanese government decided to suspend all dialogues with the South Korean government and submitted to South Korea a proposal for the two countries to file a lawsuit against the island’s sovereignty in the International Court of Justice. The South Korean government officially rejected the proposal. On August 25, 2019, the South Korean military launched a two-day “Dokdo Defense Exercise.” The South Korean Coast Guard and the armed forces of the sea, land and air all participated, and the overall military strength has doubled compared with previous years. For the first time, the Korean army dispatched the 7,600-ton “King Sejong the Great” Aegis and special forces of the army, which was the largest in all previous “Dokdo Defense Exercises.”

In South Korea, there are also many private organizations engaged in activities related to the island. South Korean academic circles call these island-protection activities “the reaction of Koreans to the historical memory of the Japanese colonial era, which is a kind of resistance to the Japanese colonial ruler that continues to this day.” Although the membership, funding sources, and demands of the government of these civil organizations are different, the goal of maintaining and enhancing South Korea’s sovereignty and management of the island is unified. Most of these groups are completely independent of the government. The main purpose of their activities is to protect the island and supervise the “Dokdo policy” of the Korean government. They actively educate the Korean people about protecting the island, and put pressure on the South Korean government through demonstrations and petitions.

Dokdo also maintains the feelings of the north and south of the peninsula
Not only that, the “Dokdo issue” also maintains the sentiment between the north and the south of the peninsula. From the perspective of North Korea and South Korea, only reunification can the peninsula achieve true national independence. Although the relationship between North Korea and South Korea has improved, the prospects for the reunification of the Korean peninsula remain bleak. In this context, the symbolic meaning of the “Dokdo issue” has become prominent. In terms of achieving complete national independence and unification and opposing external interference, the “Dokdo issue” can strengthen the national identity between the north and the south of the peninsula.

The “Dokdo issue” reflects the strong sense of territory in the north and south of the peninsula and the motivation to get rid of external interference. Among South Korean private groups, it is regarded as a kind of national crisis, that is, “the loss of Dokdo will lead to the demise of the Korean national identity.” Not only that, but in their view, the “Dokdo issue” is also the link between the north and south of the peninsula to unify the development of the peninsula. On this issue, North Korea and South Korea can reach a united front to resist Japan, thereby gradually fostering a true sense of national independence in the north and south of the peninsula, which will surely promote the process of reunification. Therefore, it is regarded as a point of cooperation for national reconciliation.

A small island is endowed with so many meanings, this is its unique charm.