Seoul Needs Proactive, Consistent Strategy
This is the 10th in a series of articles highlighting Dokdo's history, environment, old maps, folklore, the possibility of an international court decision on the East Sea islets and law of the sea. The series is the joint project of The Korea Times and the Korea Dokdo Research Center, which is affiliated with the Korea Maritime Institute. ― ED.
By Michael Ha
The Korean government needs to reexamine its ongoing tug-of-war with Japan over the East Sea islets of Dokdo and devise a more proactive strategy, according to scholars.
Commenting on Tokyo's announcement this summer that it would add a territorial claim over Dokdo to school manuals, Korean scholars said the episode highlighted Seoul's need to find new ways to address the problem.
The scholars noted that when the decision was announced, the Korean government didn't have a lot of appealing options to choose from.
And while the U.S. federal geographic office, the Board on Geographic Names, reverted to cataloging the islets as Korean territory after a protest from Korea, that issue is also not fully resolved, they noted.
Gov't Feeling Domestic Pressure
``At times, it appears as if the Korean government is being dragged around without a clear direction whenever the debate comes up in the news,'' Dongguk University Professor Kim Yong-hyun said. `In the past, we more or less responded off-the-cuff, as events unfolded.''
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Professor Lee Sang-hwan added that one of the reasons Prime Minister Han Seung-soo flew to Dokdo in a publicity event was because the government was concerned about public sentiment and criticism from political opponents. The administration felt pressured to show something domestically, Professor Lee told the Hankook Ilbo, a sister publication of The Korea Times.
``These types of publicity events could give an impression that Korean diplomatic efforts are rather emotional and inadequate,'' he cautioned.
Don't Take Dokdo for Granted
Dokdo scholars also said what happened at the U.S. geographic naming office also left behind unfavorable side effects. They noted that while the U.S. office did change the Dokdo designation back to Korean territory, after much protest from Seoul, it still gave an impression to some in the international community that there exists a real sovereignty dispute.
Professor Park Gun-young of the Catholic University of Korea warned that Korean diplomacy ``seems rather withdrawn at times because some officials tend to emphasize `quiet diplomacy' and thus didn't project a strong will to defend national territories.''
Some scholars warned against taking Dokdo for granted. There is a common view that says, ``Dokdo is ours, so there isn't much that Korea needs to do.'' These academics noted that Dokdo's territorial issue could reemerge at any time. They argued the Korean government needs to take further steps to publicize research results that back Korean sovereignty over the islets.
Developing Risk-Management Manuals
Korea University Professor Kim Sung-han said that Korea's responses should go beyond merely responding to changes in geographic designations or textbooks. ``We need to take on a broader, comprehensive strategy and provide help for more research efforts to inform the international community that Dokdo belongs to Korea,'' he told the Hankook Ilbo.
A number of professors also argued for a multi-national approach. Professor Kim Yong-hyun from Dongguk University noted that a regional diplomatic and negotiation framework, including participation by Russia and China, might be a good idea to address regional territorial issues.
These scholars said they would like to emphasize diplomacy with a clear direction and principles, adding that the administration's ``practical diplomacy'' still needs a more concrete strategy and political philosophy to go along with it.
Inha University Professor Nam Chang-hee also advised the government to look into possible scenarios and risks and develop specific risk-management manuals to prepare for future territorial issues.
Korea Has Effective Control of Dokdo
From the United States, David Straub, associate director of Korean Studies Program at Stanford University, also noted that Korea should embrace a strategic approach toward the controversy with Japan. He urged Korea to base its policy on the fact that it has effective control of the islets.
Straub noted that Korea ``has actual possession of the islets. Japan cannot take the matter to the international court unless Korea agrees, and Korea won't.
``Japan will not attempt to use force to take the islets. As far as I know, not a single country in the world wishes to get involved in the controversy between Korea and Japan over Dokdo, and thus none will support Japan.'' His comments appeared on the university's Korean Studies Web site and were reported this month by the Hankook Ilbo.
Taking Confident, Long-Term Approach
Straub added that ``Logically, therefore, Korea's goals should be to maintain actual physical possession of Dokdo, and, in the mid-term, persuade others in the international community that Korea's claim outweighs Japan's.''
Korea needs to ``confidently, diplomatically publicize its position based on the very best objective research on the issue,'' Straub advised.
He said that would lay the basis, in the long run, for Japan's eventual dropping its claim and the international community actively supporting Korea's claim.
``Tactically Korea should take a confident, low-key, long-term, strategic approach toward Dokdo,'' he said.
Straub argued that overreacting to offending Japanese steps or actions may ``play into the hands of the Japanese right-wing, both domestically in Japan where those Japanese not particularly interested in Dokdo may be offended and energized by Korean criticism of all `Japanese' and Japan.''
He also observed that in the international community, strong Korean reactions are widely reported and this can unintentionally result in increased publicity for the Japanese claim.