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Tag Archives: South Korea

North Korea is taking on the world, and we have no choice but to respond.

Nuclear Showdown (2005) is journalist Gordon G. Chang’s conclusion to his contribution to the study of North Korea as a East Asian and global crisis.

It was Chang’s chapter on Japan and the abduction issue that first caught my eye. I found the book as I flicked around the shelves of my local store and immediately I knew I had to buy it. I picked up the 2007 Arrow edition, which includes a new foreword addressing the October 2006 nuclear test.

Chang eases you into the book and takes you along a wandering argument that climaxes with an acknowledgement of the dangerous times in which we live. He is even-handed and incisive throughout, even if his somewhat flowery prose may grate at times. He writes well, although whoever decided to forego conventional footnoting for the bizarre system employed might need rounding up and shooting: finding the relevant comments and references is a pain in the ass.

Chang’s conception of North Korea is of a regime fighting to stay alive as capitalism wells up at the grassroots-level. Chang criticises the US for being to soft on North Korea’s past transgressions, such as the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, and for not negotiating and controlling North Korea’s nuclear rise in a consistent and firm manner. He also criticises America’s over-generosity to China who should now look to become a responsible world citizen by reining in its client state, or preferably abandoning it altogether. He criticises South Korea, particularly former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, for sustaining a fragile regime that relying on foreign aid for its survival while snubbing market reform as a result of the brewing bottom-up revolution.

On the issue of Japan, Chang is sympathetic to the country’s more immediate concern of attack: the pressing threat posed by North Korea acts more strongly on Japan than the US. He also notes the overwhelmingly political nature of the abduction issue and its emotional underpinnings. Japan is most at risk from a North Korean nuke, and as a result it is struggling to stay confined to the bounds of the constitution imposed upon it by the American post-War authorities. Despite that, it must: a Japanese bomb would create a whole new arms race and set of global tensions.

It is to this tension that Chang so skilfully leads the reader. For him, the North Korean problem highlights the challenge posed to the global hegemon, the US. Chang finds WWII to be apogee of US power, and from then on it has been relatively weakened as the destroyed nations around it have rebuilt. He is not implying that the US is by any means facing the end of its history, but rather that it has a chance to solidify its position.

Chang believes that the US should reinvigorate the non-proliferation norms and regime by carrying out what it committed to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: the destruction of its nuclear stockpile. Chang suggests that even a wholesale, yet incomplete, dismantling of the US arsenal would show the state’s good intentions to the currently less-than-impressed non-nuclear powers. “The American president can give the order to eliminate all life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everybody only once, are his constituents any less safe?”

Chang is encouraging the US to take the bold step to make an example of North Korea. By unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpile it will show its commitment to a non-nuclear future. He also encourages the US to be tough on North Korea in the Six-Party Talks and place all the issues on the table: from human rights to counterfeiting. By doing so, the Chinese and South Koreans will be forced to take sides (all the while under pressure from the international community to take the most reasonable side, that of the US). Ultimately, however, Chang believes that the US should be prepared to make an example of North Korea by committing itself to a possible use of force. “But if there ever were a reason to go to war, it is to save the nonproliferation treat and the global arms control regime. No other justification for conflict comes close.”

Chang’s argument is bold in and of itself. He is pessimistic for our future, and quite rightly so. At the moment, his work is still relevant. In the three years since Nuclear Showdown was first published, little progress has been made. Whether one accepts his conclusions is down to the individual, but the claims presented are well-linked and researched and show a broad understanding of the North Korean crisis in the context of global security.

Maybe our struggle with [Kim] is not the clash of good and evil, as some would have it, but it is at the very least a fight to preserve the liberal international system that has been responsible for so much global progress.


This article from The Japan Times raises an interesting, but not too surprising, prospect:

Police quiz S. Korean actress over abductees to the North
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Japanese police in February questioned a South Korean actress in connection with North Korea’s intelligence agency’s abductions of two Japanese couples, investigative sources said Tuesday.

Two former senior agency officials believed to have been close aides to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il are suspected of ordering the 1978 abductions of Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike and Yasushi and Fukie Chimura. […]

The two agents are Li Wan Gi, former director of what was known as the foreign information research department of the North Korean Workers Party, and Kang Hae Ryong, its former vice director.

Investigations have already pointed to the likely involvement of the agency and the two officials in the abduction of the actress, Choi Un Gi, and the two Japanese couples. […]

Choi was kidnapped in 1978, around the same time as the couples, while she was in Hong Kong, and sought asylum through the U.S. Embassy in Vienna in March 1986.

Choi’s husband, filmmaker Sin Sang Ok, also disappeared in Hong Kong. The couple were told by North Korean agents that they were taken to the country to help develop its filmmaking industry, and continued making films in Pyongyang and other locations. […]

The case of Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok (as the two are more commonly romanised) is well-known.

Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok

In the 1970s, Shin was a once-successful director (‘a film director of legendary stature in his native country – the Orson Welles of South Korea‘) struggling under the government controls of General Park Chung-hee. Choi was Shin’s ‘muse and favorite leading lady‘, perhaps comparable to the relationship between China’s Gong Li and Zhang Yimou. Their relationship broke down in 1976 after it was revealed that Shin had sired two children to another woman while Choi had been incapable of conceiving and after the couple had already adopted a child. Choi filed for divorce and moved to Hong Kong where in 1978 she was kidnapped and taken to North Korea. Six months later, while looking for his missing wife, Shin was also kidnapped.

“I was jailed for about five years, but I didn’t know at the time that it would land up being that long,” he said.

“If I had known from the start I would rather have been dead. During this time I was very, very depressed. They expected brainwashing to change me.”

His wife was also ordered to attend re-education classes. She was forced to study North Korea’s “glorious” revolution and later made to sit exams on the subject.

“I was very unhappy. I did think of suicide but then I thought of my family and how much this would hurt them. It was an awful time,” she said. [THOMSON, Kidnapped by North Korea]

In 1983, the pair were reunited at a dinner party in Pyongyang. Their abductions were seemingly ordered by an adoring Kim Jong-il, movie nut of the highest order.

Kim Jong Il borrowed more directly from outside [film influences] when he arranged for the abduction of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee in 1978. Six months later, Kim abducted her estranged husband, famous South Korean director Shin Sang-ok. Before the pair managed to escape in 1986 during a stopover in Vienna, Shin Sang-ok introduced many new innovations into North Korean film. His most famous films during this period-a North Korean version of Godzilla called Pulgasari and a retelling of the famous Korean folk tale of Chunhyang called Love, Love, My Love-added science fiction and musical romance to the North Korean repertoire. [FEFFER, Screening North Korea]

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“The North’s film-makers are just doing perfunctory work. They don’t have any new ideas,” Kim told the couple.

“Their works have the same expressions, redundancies, the same old plots. All our movies are filled with crying and sobbing. I didn’t order them to portray that kind of thing.”

He blamed misunderstandings by thoughtless officials for their unfriendly four-year North Korean welcome. He also apologised for taking so long to get back to them personally, saying it had been busy at the office.

The idea came to Kim, he said, when he heard that Seoul’s repressive, militaristic Park regime had closed down Shin Films.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to bring him here’,” he said. Infiltrating Shin Films with agents posing as business partners, Kim explained how he lured the two to Repulse Bay, Hong Kong. First Choi disappeared on a trip to discuss an acting job. Then, on the way to dinner one night, Shin had a sack filled with a chloroform-like substance pulled over his head. With that, Kim had imported the best film talent the peninsula had to offer. [GORENFIELD, The Producer from Hell]

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“Kim Jong-il later confessed to me that the reason he kidnapped my wife first was because he wanted me to come and make films for him,” Shin Sang-ok said.

Kim Jong-il is film mad. Soon after the couple arrived in Pyongyang he took them for a private tour of his film library, which holds more than 15,000 movies. […]

Initially the director was not sure what the North Korean leader meant by a “good” film, until he took note of what he watched most often. Top of the list was Rambo, followed by Friday the Thirteenth and all the James Bond movies. […]

Meanwhile his wife was given a large room in the leader’s scenic summerhouse overlooking the river.

In a series of charm offensives Kim Jong-il went out of his way to make her feel welcome by bringing her piles of expensive clothes and Western cosmetics. [THOMSON, Kidnapped by North Korea]

Choi recorded the meeting with a tape recorder and would then use that to bargain their way into US custody when on a business trip to Vienna to arrange the distribution of a movie about Genghis Khan in 1986. North Korea claims that the pair made their own way to the North and that they stole $2.3 million taken with them to Austria to fund the film’s possible Western distribution. Choi’s tape recording of her meeting with Kim Jong-il have subsequently been aired in South Korea. By the time they left North Korea, the pair were once more a couple, supposedly with Kim’s urgings.

If it was indeed Kim Jong-il that ordered their abduction, then it casts even more doubt over the paper-thin, tried-and-tested excuse offered by the Dear Leader in his 2002 Pyongyang Summit with Koizumi Jun’ichiro. The abductions were certainly not the work of rogue or overzealous agents, as Kim would have everyone unquestioningly believe, but clearly rested with the top figures of the North Korean government. The news in The Japan Times also shows how inextricably linked Kim might have been to the abduction of other foreign nationals.

Every morning I wake up, turn on my PC, and open Firefox. This morning (and as I write this), BBC News has an Asia-Pacific article that caught my eye:

Japan extends N Korea sanctions
Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 03:49 GMT 04:49 UK

Japan has extended economic sanctions on North Korea, citing a lack of progress in a row over Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

The measures – which ban imports from North Korea and visits by its ships – will continue for another six months.

A top official said Japan was seeking advances on both the abduction and nuclear issues.

The move comes exactly a year after North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, on 9 October 2006.

Since then, Pyongyang has agreed to end its nuclear programme in return for millions of dollars worth of aid.

It has closed its main Yongbyon reactor and last week committed to a timetable for disclosing and dismantling all its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

Later this week, a US-led team of experts are due to visit North Korea, where they will begin supervising the process of dismantling its nuclear installations.

‘No progress’

Japan is one of the five countries involved in the nuclear deal with North Korea.

But a major sticking point in the bilateral relationship has been the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang in the late 1970s and early 1980s to train spies.

“We saw the need to extend the sanctions because there has been no progress over the abduction issue,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told journalists after the move was agreed at a Cabinet meeting.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. It has returned five of them and says the remaining eight are dead. It says the issue has now been resolved.

But Japan wants concrete proof of the deaths and believes that several more of its citizens were taken. There is huge public concern over the issue in Japan.

Talks in Mongolia last month aimed at resolving the dispute came to nothing.

The abduction row was not the only factor behind the decision, Mr Machimura said.

“We also took into comprehensive consideration the overall situation involving North Korea, including the nuclear issue,” he said.

A foreign ministry official told the Associated Press news agency that Japan wanted to see concrete steps from Pyongyang towards disabling its nuclear programme.

The sanctions – imposed last October after North Korea’s nuclear test – prevent visits by the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, the only direct link between the two countries, and ban imports from the impoverished nation.

They have now been extended until 13 April, officials said. The decision needs the endorsement of parliament, but the opposition have already agreed to the step.

Anyone reading the article can’t escape the implication that the extension has nothing to do with the nuclear issue, which has received a lot of pace in the past six months.

Then, upon opening Outlook (because opening both at the same time tends to cause Firefox to hang), I found my daily Japan Times email which included these articles:

Japanese abductee issue is over, Kim told Roh
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

SEOUL (Kyodo) North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun in last week’s summit that there are no more Japanese who have been abducted to the country, according to a South Korean professor who was a member of the delegation to Pyongyang.

Yonsei University professor Moon Jung In, who is an adviser to Roh and accompanied the president to Pyongyang for summits with Kim, said Roh raised the issue of Japanese kidnapped to the reclusive state in the 1970s and 1980s during the talks with Kim.

However, the North Korean leader simply answered that the issue is over, Moon said in a briefing to foreign journalists.

Japan believes some Japanese taken to North Korea decades ago may still be alive in the reclusive country.

Roh delivered a message to Kim from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda that is believed to have touched on the kidnapping issue. But Kim’s only response appeared to be that there are no more Japanese abducted in the country and that the issue was closed, according to Moon.

This is simply confirmation of what we’ve known for a long time: the North Koreans believe there is nothing to give up. Coupled with this second article, I believe we might see a reason for the extension of sanctions:

Full resolution of abductee issue not required by U.S.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States will not insist on a full resolution of the issue of North Korea’s past abduction of Japanese nationals as a condition for removing Pyongyang from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, diplomatic sources said Monday.

While Tokyo has been asking Washington not to delist North Korea until all abductees are returned, the United States is putting greater emphasis on how cooperative the North will be, such as in giving additional explanations about the fate of eight abductees, including Megumi Yokota, as the criteria for judging the abduction issue resolved and removing Pyongyang from the list, said the sources.

The approach highlights Japan’s concerns that the United States could move to take North Korea off the blacklist as the six-party nuclear talks make progress even in the absence of tangible movement to resolve the abduction issue.

During the latest round of the six-party talks last month, North Korea agreed to disable three facilities in its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to provide a complete, correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs by Dec. 31.

If North Korea implements these agreements, it is expected that other six-party members, including South Korea, China and Russia, will step up pressure on the United States to remove Pyongyang from the list, a move that would isolate Japan, which finds it hard to compromise on the abduction issue given the sentiments of the abductees’ kin and public opinion.

According to the sources, the U.S. is focusing on how cooperative North Korea will be in elucidating the fate of the eight abductees – whom Pyongyang says are dead.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens, including the eight, to the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Five were later repatriated to Japan. Including the five, Japan officially recognizes that 17 people were abducted to North Korea.

North Korea has said the eight committed suicide, drowned or died from illness, poisoning or traffic accidents – an account rejected by their relatives and the Japanese government. Pyongyang also said their graves disappeared in a major flood in 1995.

With progress looking increasingly bleak for Japan, the Fukuda cabinet is showing that when he says ‘dialogue and pressure’ he does not simply mean ‘dialogue’. As an issue, it is a good one for Fukuda to continue to press largely due to the public support. However, whether Japan can get anything out of the abduction issue concurrently with progress on the nuclear issue remains to be seen. As it stands, we are simply seeing that the end of the Abe cabinet is not the end of primacy of the abduction issue in bilateral relations.

From The Japan Times:

’08 defense budget boost eyed for new jets, PAC-3s
Kyodo News
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

The Defense Ministry plans to seek ¥4.82 trillion in budgetary appropriations for fiscal 2008, an increase of 0.7 percent from the initial budget for the current fiscal year that began April 1.

The budgetary request, reported Wednesday morning at a joint meeting of defense-related committees of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, includes ¥112.3 billion for upgrading the Air Self-Defense Force’s fleet of fighter jets.

Originally planned for next spring, the selection of next-generation fighters has been delayed because of stalled negotiations with the United States over sales to Japan of the state-of-the-art F-22A Raptor stealth fighter.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved in late July a draft defense budget for fiscal 2008 that maintains a clause to ban the export of the Raptor.

The move is believed to reflect U.S. concerns about the possible leak of sensitive U.S. technology if the advanced stealth fighter is sold to Japan.

In anticipation of the bid of the next-generation fighter, Japan has its own indigenous project underway: ‘Shinshin’. It has been under development as ATDX at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, responsible for the infamous Zero, and licensee of many of the ASDF’s fighters: F15J, F2, F1 and F4EJ.

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Security on the Korean PeninsulaI just got back from a pretty arduous day. I got up at 5am to take a 3-hour bus ride to Swansea in South Wales for a conference, and I just got back at 10.30pm. The conference was entitled ‘The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula’ and had a wide range of people talking, and I just want a take a few moments to report the day’s proceedings to you guys.

Firstly, Swansea. It was my first time there, and I think I’ve seen enough of it to not want to go back. While the University of Wales, Swansea was not a bad place, but the city was a shit-hole, to be fair. The contrast between university and city really couldn’t have been more marked as I stood outside the old Singleton Abbey (in which the conference was held) with a park below and the sea in the distance, far better than the grime and tack we saw driving in.

The conference was split into two halves, the domestic and international dimensions. The morning kicked off with a discussion entitled ‘Human Security in the DPRK’. Two of Swansea’s own lecturers gave papers in this session. Professor Michael Sheehan gave one entitled ‘Freedom from Fear: Political Oppression in the DPRK’ regarding the human rights abuses of the Kim regime. It was an interesting paper essentially showing how the DPRK had paid particular attention to the fall of the Ceauşescu regime in Romania and the lessons it drew from that, namely that change is dangerous and the North Korean practice of regime security was effective. Dr Alan Collins then gave a paper on ‘Freedom from Want: Famine and Migration in the DPRK’. Collins essentially outlined the culpability of the regime in the famine, as well as the link between regime security and the Public Distribution System (PDS), the main means through which food was distributed. He then advocated reunification as the best solution for the North Korean people, hoping for a peaceful change and a soft-landing.

The second morning session was on the reunification of Korea. Dr Key-young Son (of Sheffield University) presented a paper entitled ‘Are we near Sunset Boulevard? The Sunshine Policy and an ‘imagined’ road to unification’. It was an interesting discussion of what might happen after the Sunshine Policy hits its shelf-life. Son showed how the dots of economic cooperation in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong would develop, via South Korea’s modernisation of North Korean transportation, into lines linking the key locations of interest for the South Koreans in a cross-DMZ train service (one of the lines went from Seoul to Mt Baekdu). I wasn’t sure whether he was presenting his own projections, or those based on South Korean government desires. The second paper was by Professor Hideya Kurata (Kyorin University in Tokyo) on ‘Building Peace through Security Assurances’. My girlfriend told me she recognised Kurata from TV, and in talking to him she learned that he often gives his opinion to the press as an expert in East Asian international relations, and he has, at some point, been called a ‘North Korea collaborator’ by the press for his down-to-Earth views on the abduction issue (namely that Japan should be far more concerned with denuclearisation). His paper demonstrated the confidence-building measures and extended dialogue in the inter-Korean relationship, as well as peace-building beyond the current day.

The afternoon session on the international dimensions of Korean security began with discussions on the Six-Party Talks. Dr Jianjun Yu (of the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai) discussed China’s perspective in a paper entitled ‘China and Six-Party Talks: Seeking Multilateral Security in East Asia’. He suggested that the Six-Party Talks showed an East Asian conception of conflict resolution, different to that of Europe. In viewing China’s role in the talks, he discussed China’s change in security preferences (bilateral to multilateral engagement), its diplomatic plights (its strategic, moral, economic and political concerns vis a vis the DPRK), and the desire to institutionalise the Six-Party Talks as a multilateral security forum. Dr Russell Ong (University of Manchester) followed this up with a talk on the ‘US and the challenge of North Korea’, essentially running through the US perspective. This was largely reporting on what was already apparent to anyone who watched the news, and thus was the least interesting talk of the day (despite Ong’s engaging presentation technique). The one item that caught my attention was the US as an ‘Asian power’, that is a extraterritorial Great Power in the region.

The final session of the day was the most important and relevant for me, it was entitled ‘Nuclear Proliferation’ but didn’t really settle into this. Dr Christopher Hughes (Warwick University), a key writer on Japan’s defence posture, gave a talk on ‘Japan’s defence posture, missile defence and the response to DPRK nuclear proliferation’. I had no idea he was coming so it was a nice surprise for me. He discussed much along the same lines of my research interests, namely ‘North Korea as existential threat, alliance divider, terror state, and all-purpose pretext’. It was a great, yet brief discussion and I later asked him for his thoughts on the abduction issue, the marginalisation of Japan in the Six-Party Talks, and the effect on the US relationship. He saw Japan as ‘stranded’ and ‘in a corner’ politically, Abe had backed the wrong people (the US neo-cons such as Bolton) and now they are gone or going he is left as the seemingly hard-liner. The two other talks by Dr Seung-young Kim (University of Aberdeen) on the ‘US-South Korean Military Alliance: Impact of DPRK Nuclear Status’, and Unto Vesa (Tampere Peace Research Institute, Finland) on ‘North Korea and the Non-Proliferation Treaty’ largely passed me by (as I attempted to formulate the aforementioned question), although from what I gathered, Dr Kim saw South Korea’s relationship with the US becoming more open to choice, that is that Korea can choose to participate in adventures such as Iraq, unlike its close ties during the Vietnam War, for instance. Vesa showed the progression of the nuclear issue from the first North Korean nuclear physics research lab in 1959, right through the present day. He also saw the denuclearisation talks as a ‘long and winding road’, and essentially futile.

So, that was my day. Anyway, I’m going to go have a long soak in the bath to remove those bus-journey aches. Until next time…

Territorial DisputesJapan has territorial issues with three of its neighbours. Each and every instance seems intractable, and each is a major issue in Japan’s relations with those neighbours. North of Hokkaido, Japan claims the four islands that it calls the ‘Northern Territories’. To Japan’s northwest is Takeshima, claimed by the South Koreans. West of Japan is the Senkakus, which China claims. Nearby lie lucrative gas fields that could ease the burden of energy security on both sides.This post is the second of three that examine the territorial disputes of Japan. Today we will examine the dispute between South Korea and Japan over the Liancourt Rocks, as well as the virtual territorial disputes over the naming of features in the vicinity. This is an issue that sparks flag-burning in South Korea, but I hope to approach the issue as fairly as possible.


Takeshima Map

On any map at a scale that allows you to see Liancourt Rocks (named after the French ship that charted them in the mid-19th Century), known to the Japanese as Takeshima (竹島) can only show it to you as a small dot. On the map above, it is probably no more than 2 pixels (accounting for the dithering). It is actually two small, rocky outcrops and 35 minor rocks known to the Koreans as Dokdo (독도, 獨島). To attempt to be more objective, I will use the more neutral English name rather than the disputed names of either side (for fear of the nationalist hoards).


Takeshima Close-up

History of the Dispute


So there it is, those barren rocks are the subject of such controversy. How does each side ground their claims? As with the Northern Territories, the issue is complex. Japan had annexed the rocks in January 1905, eight months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth. It had done so under the presumption of terra nullius, or ’empty land’. A month later, on February 22nd, it was incorporated into Shimane Prefecture. It was only after the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth, over a year after the annexation of the Liancourt Rocks, that Japan informed Korea, who by that time were already controlled by Japan. The Treaty of Portsmouth (1905) gave control of Korea to Japan. Article 2 of the treaty reads:

The Imperial Russian Government, acknowledging that Japan possesses in Korea paramount political, military and economical interests engages neither to obstruct nor interfere with measures for guidance, protection and control which the Imperial Government of Japan may find necessary to take in Korea. It is understood that Russian subjects in Korea shall be treated in exactly the same manner as the subjects and citizens of other foreign Powers; that is to say, they shall be placed on the same footing as the subjects and citizens of the most favored nation. It is also agreed that, in order to avoid causes of misunderstanding, the two high contracting parties will abstain on the Russian-Korean frontier from taking any military measure which may menace the security of Russian or Korean territory.

The Russo-Japanese War had centred around control of Korea and Manchuria, thus in resolving the war it was deemed necessary to make Korea a protectorate to one of the parties, thereby allowing the victor to exercise control over the contested ground. Japan was deemed to have won the war having won at the Battle of Tsushima. * Japan also received Port Arthur and the rest of the Liaodong (Liaotung) Peninsula (the part of China just north of North Korea that sticks into the Bohai Sea, which is in turn north of the Yellow Sea). Manchuria was given back to China.

*The battle was a tragic one for the Russians. With their strongest ships part of the Baltic Fleet, they found it necessary to send the fleet half way around the world (from North Europe, all the way over to Korea) where they were sunk by the excellent tactics of Admiral Togo. The fleet took nearly 8 months to reach the theatre of war, almost started a war with the UK (after firing on fishing ships off Dogger Bank which they believed to be torpedo boats) and lost 21 ships in the battle. The Japanese, who had studied the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan (who advocated the primacy of the ‘decisive battle’), had several foreign observers, all of whom were impressed by the resonance of Mahan’s work in the battle. This was what made the Japanese Navy the pride of the Imperial Armed Forces.

The Koreans, on the other hand, say that the Liancourt Rocks was incorporated into the Korean Empire in 1900 with Korean Government Imperial Ordinance 41. They claim that the island referred to as Seok-do (石島) in the ordinance is actually what is currently known to them as Dokdo, because of the pronunciation of those Hanja (Chinese characters: Hanzi in Chinese, Kanji in Japanese) in local dialects.

However, Ordinance 41 was an internal ordinance by the government. Japan’s annexation of the Liancourt Rocks was a unilateral measure based on an understanding that it belonged to no-one. Furthermore, Japan’s actions were occurring at a time when it was fighting for control of Korea. The Russo-Japanese War was between a failing Tsarist regime and a growing power with colonial interests, Japan’s claims might then be said to have been made through aggression or greed.

Takeshima Today

The issue is a hot one, and the best way to illustrate that is with videos, albeit from Japanese TV. I believe you will see the extensive nationalist fervour the rocks incite in South Korea, as well as the more, dare I say, nonchalant approach taken by Japan.

Takeshima and Japan

In 2005, Shimane Prefecture proposed the creation of Takeshima Day, February 22nd, exactly 100 years after the Liancourt Rocks were incorporated into the prefecture. In 2006, Japan attempted to conduct a general maritime survey from which Japan backed down (media reports worried that a skirmish might take place). It is generally held that the issue is not as big a deal for the general population as it is in South Korea, although the obvious exceptions are the citizens of Shimane Prefecture and the nationalistic uyoku (a subject of a future post).

Dokdo and South Korea

I believe that having watched the videos above, you are aware that the issue is a critical one in South Korea. The furore is propelled by anti-Japanese sentiment and the government’s willingness to indoctrinate the nation’s children with its claims. Frankly I am disturbed by the emotions kicked up over this, but I am well-aware that this might simply be the result of media attraction to the extremes. However, I hope to go over this at a later date in another post.

Dissecting the Dispute

The article Territorial Disputes at the International Court of Justice by Brian Taylor Summer (Duke Law Journal, Vol. 53 (2003-04), pp. 1779-1812) describes nine justifications of claims over territory. These are indeed the criteria that an appeal to the ICJ will encounter (you may have noticed that in one of the videos above, the reluctance of South Korea to take such an action was discussed). I will examine the ownership over the Liancourt Rocks using each category as a lens.

A. Treaty Law

In Imperial Ordinance 41 and Japan’s incorporation of the islands into Shimane Prefecture are not international agreements and neither was party to one another’s actions. Korea was also not a signed party of the Treaty of Portsmouth, which instead handed over a great deal of the Korean Empire’s sovereignty to the Japanese. In fact, the Liancourt Rocks do not appear in any international agreement, most importantly, they are not mentioned at all in the Treaty of San Francisco. Thus this category is unlikely to resolve the issue in the eyes of any independent body.

B. Geography

Takeshima Distances

In terms of geography, the nearest territories for Japan and Korea are Okinoshima and Uleungdo. Uleungdo is nearly twice as close as Okinoshima to the Liancourt Rocks. However, distances mean very little except for deciding the boundaries between islands. The issue is a strategic one, and geography is unlikely to resolve this issue. If either state were to secure the islands, they could push the border of their Exclusive Economic Zone (typically 200 miles from the coast, or to the halfway point between the coast and another state), thus the issue is not simply about these barren rocks.

C. Economy

For both countries, the Liancourt Rocks offer vital resources with rich fishing stocks and gas deposits. The Sea of Japan (or East Sea, as it is known to the Koreans) is essential to both states, and thus securing extra territory brings with it major economic advantages. However, there is no definitive justification coming from the economic interests of either state, instead they are quite equal, thus this category will not decide the issue.

D. Culture

Is there an issue of culture when we discuss what are little more than rocks? I think not as the islands are uninhabited (or at least were, until the South Koreans began the military build-up). This is another category that has little to say.

E. Effective Control

The South Koreans are clearly the controlling force of the Liancourt Rocks. They have been since the early 1950s when Syngman Rhee, then President of the Republic of Korea, established the ‘Rhee/peace line’ which staked a claim to the Liancourt Rocks. There were a number of incidents involving the Japanese Coast Guard and volunteer guards from Korea, during which there were casualties. They have constructed a radar, port and lighthouse there and a number of people both guard and maintain the islets.

F. History

Each claimant looks back into history to provide some long-standing claim, and the depth of this activity is bewildering. The island was uninhabited until the latter part of the 20th Century (and only then inhabited by people who wished to guard it).

At the start of the Edo Period, Japanese fisherman would travel to Ulleungdo with the blessing of the Shogunate Government to fish, hunt and forest, they used the Liancourt Rocks as a base-camp, and even after trips to Ulleungdo were abandoned in 1696 (after a conflict between Korea and Japan), fishermen and hunters still visited the rocks. This continued into the Meiji Era.

The Koreans attempt to trace their historical claims all the way back to 512 AD. Their claims are extensive and I have neither the inclination nor time to press into them, although readers should start here with Gerry at Occidentalism’s posts ‘Lies, Half-Truths, & Dokdo Video’. Gerry does a great job at debunking much of the noise. You will find the links to the other parts of that series of posts at the end of that post.

The historical claims of both sides are sketchy at best, and it is unclear how well they would stand up at a ICJ arbitration.

G. Uti Possidetis

This is a phrase to describe the handing down of administrative borders from a colonial power. On this section, the fact that Japan incorporated the Liancourt Rocks into its own territory would suggest that the postcolonial borders would rest between Ulleungdo and the rocks. If it came down to this, I guess Japan would come through, but the problem is the way in which Japan’s colonialism was ended: Allied victory in WWII.

H. Elitism

This category favours the party most likely to make the most out of the territory, and to be honest, I’m not quite sure that it applies. There is a limit to what one can do with the islands, but the South Koreans have taken the development issue by the hand and pushed through to create at least the most basic infrastructure of sovereign and economic control. Thus I believe the South Koreans have it on this one too.

I. Ideology

This claim most probably falls onto the anti-imperialist/colonialist ideology enshrined in the Atlantic Charter. Ideology such as this is the opposite of uti possidetis, in that the conclusion of the Second World War saw a desire to give territory back to its rightful, non-imperial owners. In this vein, the rocks would probably fall to South Korea.


Prospects for the Future

I started this post believing that Japan’s claims over the islands were the strongest, in international terms at least. However, I have no doubt that Japan is unlikely to ever get the islands back without having to fight for it. South Korea controls the Liancourt Rocks, and possession is nine tenths of the law. Although the South Koreans are unwilling to take the issue to the ICJ, because of fear of the smallest chance that they might lose, it seems highly likely that they would win based on their control. One article even suggested that due to the Liancourt Rocks ‘limbo cession’ in the Treaty of San Francisco, one of the parties might call on the US to make a judgement… One wonders what that would do for US alliances in the region. Quite frankly, the only prospect for the future is that Japan will simply stop caring, although given the economic possibilities inherent in pushing out its EEZ into that region makes it unlikely. This is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, and I’m sure it might get a lot worse before it begins getting better.

Next time: Japan’s Territorial Disputes with China.

PS: Sorry for the delay in writing this, it’s bedlam at the moment. I hope to keep to at least two posts a week in the meantime, although do expect that I’ll throw in some duds to keep things moving.

Further Resources

Japan is furious with North Korea for kidnapping its people. However, the quantity of kidnappings has been far higher in South Korea, yet the issue has been largely sidelined. The issue is complicated in South Korea as there are two seemingly different sort of abductions.

During the Korean war, some 7,000 civilians were abducted by the North. [1] This was a period of active civil war. The abductions cases are labelled as ‘displaced civilians’, and they are still unresolved. They are of a different character to North Korea’s later abductions.

These later abductions are similar in character to those of Japan. Some 486 are suspected to have been kidnapped. [2] Two famous cases are noteworthy. South Korean actress Choe Eun-hui was taken to North Korea because Kim Jong-il wished to make movies with her. Soon after her film director husband, Shin Sang-ok, was taken as he searched for his wife. [3] The second prominent case, that of Kim Young-nam, is one that only arose during investigations into the Japanese abductee, Megumi Yokota. It was revealed that they were married. He was reunited with his family in June 2006. The reunion was presented as North/South reconcilation, North Korea careful not to bring too much attention to the abduction issue for fear of uniting Japanese and South Korean opinion. [4]

Efforts towards resolving the South Korean abduction issue are still half-hearted. They have been “left on the backburner” as Rhee In-je of the United Liberal Democrats party once said. [5] The reason is undoubtedly the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’, the initative of former President Kim Dae-jung (incidently the victim of a kidnapping by his own country). [6] The abduction issue for the South Korean government is being handled in the context of reunification and the reuniting of divided families. In many ways it is a more rational policy than that of Japan, both of whom are threatened by North Korea.

Perhaps it is the overwhelming threat the North poses that has meant leaving the abduction issue alone, after all, Seoul is within artillery range of North Korea. The issue certainly is not benefiting from the state of South Korean-Japanese relations, and certainly not from President Roh Moo-hyun. That said, there is something to be learnt from South Korea’s approach. Japan’s anger at North Korea is being recognised as counter-productive, only making North Korea more stubborn on the nuclear issue. [7, 8, 9] Japan might wish to take a step back to appreciate this.