Dokdo or Takeshima?
Almost simultaneously with the aggravation of the territorial dispute between China and Japan, a long-standing dispute has sharply escalated between Japan and South Korea over ownership of the Dokdo Islands (Korean name), they are also called Takeshima (Japanese name). If in the case of the Senkaku archipelago Japan carries administrative control, the Dokdo islands are under the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea (ROK).
The symbolic peak of the confrontation was the first ever visit to Dokdo on August 10, 2012 of the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and the landing on the Senkaku Islands on August 15 of 14 Chinese activists, who were Hong Kong residents. By the way some observers regards the ROK President demarche as to some extent the echo of D. Medvedev two visits on Southern Kuril islands in November 2010 as Russia President and in July 2012 as Russia Premier.
What are the driving forces behind the simultaneous awakening of the dormant territorial disputes existing between Tokyo and all three (or four, if we consider the claims of Beijing and Taipei on the Diaoyu Islands separately) of her Far Eastern neighbors and instantly unwinding them to the state of a political tsunami?
One of these forces is the creation by the U.S. of a “return” to the Asia-Pacific region, which we have already mentioned. Also however, there are deep internal reasons. Among the first of these is a surge of nationalism in all the conflicting countries. Here, first of all researchers have identified a growing trend in the influence of right-wing nationalist forces in Japanese society, which has manifested itself in recent years.
Neighbors of the Land of the Rising Sun are seriously disturbed by the spread of extremist views and the escalation of passive Japanese nationalism in to “aggressive imperialism.” Against a background of the weakening authority of the ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) as a result of the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, and also the not very effective action by the authorities to deal with its effects, is the rapid consolidation of the “new right-wing forces.”
These are already known as “Hashizm” based on a combination of the name of one of the top leaders of the “right-wing”, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, and the term “fascism.”
According to analysts, among the main reasons contributing to the growth of nationalist sentiment is the nervous reaction of the Japanese to the rapid growth of China and the weakening of confidence in the reliability of the US-Japan military alliance.
The lack of stability regarding defense as guaranteed by Washington is caused by the recent harsh polemics between former DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio and the Pentagon dealing with Tokyo unsuccessful attempt to relocate the U.S. Futenma air base from the island of Okinawa.
The friction in Japanese-American relations has spurred debate on the need for a radical strengthening of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and added hardness to the rhetoric addressed to Far Eastern neighbors.
2012 was marked by a series of provocative attacks on the part of representatives of the Japanese political elite.
– In February, The Mayor of Nagoya (4th city in the country in terms of population) Takashi Kawamura made a public denial of the massacre in the Chinese city of Nanjing, undertaken by the Japanese army in 1937, as a result of which Nanjing terminated twin town relations with Japanese partner cities and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang canceled a visit to Tokyo.
– In April, perhaps the most well-known nationalist, Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, announced plans to nationalize the Senkaku Islands.
– Created by the Mayor of Osaka (third highest city by population), the right-wing nationalist “Restoration Association” (Hashimoto’s Osaka no Kai in Japanese) made offensive statements against South Korea, arguing that “Japan owes nothing to South Korea” and “dictatorship “during the period of colonial rule was” necessary. ” Moreover, he categorically rejected the basic “non-nuclear” principles of the Japanese government, and this Association advocates nuclear weapons to deter threats from its neighbors.
The right-wingers strongly criticized the rampant “spinelessness” and “servility ” in the conduct of their government, which in seeking not to ferment a conflict with China, limited the activists from Hong Kong only to expulsion as “illegal immigrants” (the ones that not only landed on the disputed islands, but also fought with Japanese coastguards, pelting them with bricks and metal bolts).
As a result, the level of support for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda amongst the country’s population has fallen by 30%.
At the present time, the institutionalization, organization and structuring of the right wing forces in Japan is taking place. Now the former mayor of Tokyo S. Ishihara is creating his own political party, which alongside the Osaka “Restoration Association” plans to participate in parliamentary elections. In this case, observers predict a significant expansion of their presence in the country’s politics, leading to a further drift of Japan toward conservative nationalism.
Against this background, the reasons for the current deterioration in the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Seoul become clearer. It is known that South Korea, and a number of other East Asian countries, are actively protesting against the publication in the Land of the Rising Sun of textbooks, as well as other activities, that distort history and whitewash the war crimes of the Japanese military.
A more powerful wave of indignation was aroused by the approval by Tokyo in early 2012, of new textbooks for high school students, which state that the Republic of Korea is illegally occupying the island of Dokdo.
It must be said that the South Korean authorities also are contributing to the heating up of the conflict. In the final phase of his presidential career Lee Myung-bak has apparently decided to somehow restore his image in the country, by playing the nationalist card. After all his foreign policy is not so great.
The central direction of relations with the DPRK is a complete fiasco. They are in a catastrophic state. The entire infrastructure of collaboration established by his predecessors has been completely destroyed, and the ambitious but baseless plans to isolate and destroy North Korea and its absorption by the South, have failed.
Relations with its important economic partner, China, have become complicated. Also the President’s rating has dropped due to arrests and resignations on suspicion of financial crimes, including by his brother and closest associates.
Despite his former course of increasing cooperation with Japan in many areas on anti- North Korean and sometimes even an anti-China basis (in the spirit of Tokyo and Seoul ideological solidarity with their military ally –the USA), Lee Myung-bak at the end of his stay in the Blue House has severely strained relations with Tokyo.
The highlight of this is demonstrated by his visit to the island of Dokdo in August which was the culmination of this. This step, coinciding with his visit to the island of Yeonpyeong in October, which in 2010 became the scene of an artillery duel with North Korea, was apparently intended to keep in mind the image of South Korean Lee Myung-bak as unyielding defender of the territorial integrity of the state.
Back in December 2011 the ROK President demanded that the Japanese prime minister address the issue of “comfort women” (Koreans forcibly recruited into Japanese military brothels during World War II), to which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in a counter-claim asked for the removal the “peace monument “(a sculpture of a girl and a symbol of the tragedy), which was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The current aggravation of Japanese-South Korean relations has gone further than ever before. Seoul has sacrificed even a fully-developed “General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) ” and military Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Japan, designed to bring cooperation in the defense field to unprecedented heights than ever before, refusing at the last minute to sign it (29 June 2012).
This move provoked the undisguised irritation of Washington, which has done much to bring together its two key allies in East Asia and strengthen the infrastructure of trilateral military strategic cooperation.
At this time and for the first time, the conflict touched the heart of bilateral relations – economic cooperation. The real sector of the economy is suffering: in the second half of the year Japanese investments into the economy of the Republic of Korea declined, bilateral trade and tourism slowed, Sumitomo-Mitsui Bank cancelled a number of already agreed financial services with its Korean partners.
Anti- Korean mood and public sentiment in Japan was so high that a national television channel cancelled a Korean TV series which has been extremely popular in recent years among the Japanese.
This time the victim was a TV drama “The Man Called God.” This is because the Korean movie star, who plays the main character, Soon IL Kook, took part in a relay swim at Dokdo. Now South Korea is conducting a wide range of such activities to mobilize the patriotic feelings of its citizens. In nearly every populated area there are signposts informing of the exact distance from that point to the islands disputed by Japan.
To date, the picture is very dramatic. At the same time, albeit from different viewpoints, Japan`s territorial conflict with neighboring countries is really important for, the ROK, China and Taiwan, Russia … In this regard, some commentators even admit the possibility of appearance of an anti-Japanese united front directed against Tokyo and that the “triangle” of China, Korea (the ROK and DPRK) and Russia, which will replace the already existing “triangle” of the U.S. – Japan – South Korea. In our opinion, such bold predictions are ungrounded and so spectacular designs are unlikely.
In this host of territorial disputes some trends and patterns can be seen. The nation states that really control territories tend to discuss controversial issues in a bilateral format, and countries that make claim to the islands offer to internationalize the problems. Japan is in the most contradictory situation. In the case of the Dokdo islands it offers to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice, and in the case of the Senkaku archipelago it rejects a similar Chinese proposal.
More importantly, however, is that the approaches of Russia and China observe a similar argument, although the initial positions are different: Moscow owns the Southern Kuril Islands, however Beijing (and Taipei) does not own Diaoyu.
At the same time, in both cases, the main argument put forward is the requirement to respect the principle of the inviolability of the borders established by the Second World War, and an appeal to the relevant decisions of the victorious powers, recorded in the Cairo, Yalta and Potsdam declarations.
Japan also does not recognize them on the grounds that it was not involved in these forums. This thesis, is surprising, not least considering that it fought against the creators of the postwar world, was defeated by them and signed a pact of unconditional surrender.
While Tokyo refers to the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951, the signing of the final documents of which were not attended by the Soviet Union, China or North and South Korea, or even Taiwan, due to the fact that the Cold War was being waged.
One of the main reasons why Moscow refused to sign the Treaty of San Francisco was a glaring injustice. This is based on the fact that the forum was dedicated to summarizing the War in the Pacific Ocean, and the decision on who was the main aggressor, it being militarist Japan.
In spite of one of the main tasks was to define the amount of compensation, reparations, etc., and who was to pay to the victims and the winners, in the persons of the main victims of the aggression, the Chinese and Korean peoples, were not invited.
Of course the lawyers and historians of all the countries concerned may argue endlessly over the ownership of the disputed islands, but the principle of the inviolability of the Second World War results remains fundamental.
A “Revolutionary” settling of territorial disputes over islands in the form of a change of the existing borders cannot be seen (at least in the short term). Sooner or later, common sense is likely to prevail among the participants of the current heated debate, closely linked by the interests of economic cooperation between the East Asian great three: China – Japan – ROK.
However, we cannot completely exclude the possibility of the further escalation of conflict up to the level of local armed conflicts (especially in Sino-Japanese relations). In the event of such clashes, all of the parties are likely to end up a loser.
This situation demands that all parties use maximum responsibility, to show restraint , to exercise the ability of self-control and, and that the great powers act as responsible and impartial mediators.
Dr. Alexander VORONTSOV | Strategic Culture Foundation
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