Letter reveals America’s secret deal with Japan
Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru of Japan, surrounded by senior members of the Japanese delegation, signs the peace treaty in San Francisco on Sept. 8, 1951. A draft of the treaty on Dec. 19, 1949 reveals that allied nations agreed to return Dokdo, which was unlawfully annexed by Japan in 1905, to Korea.
This is the last in a five-part series examining Korean and Japanese claims regarding Dokdo and the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 that fell short of clearly defining the legal ownership of the rocky islets in the East Sea. —ED.
By Lee Tae-hoon
Yang You-chan, Korean ambassador to the United States, was appalled when he received a letter from Dean Rusk, then U.S. assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, on Aug. 10, 1951, amid a civil war that continued to rage on the Korean Peninsula.
The official correspondence from Rusk clearly suggested that the United States, the main drafter of the peace treaty with Japan and the guarantor of South Korea’s security, believed that Dokdo, the country’s eastern most islets, were Japanese territory.
“As regards the island of Dokdo, otherwise known as Takeshima or Liancourt Rocks, this normally uninhabited rock formation was according to our information never treated as part of Korea and, since about 1905, has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands Branch Office of Shimane Prefecture of Japan,” it read.
“The island does not appear ever before to have been claimed by Korea.”
Tokyo secretly annexed the rocky islets into the Shimane Prefecture on Feb. 22, 1905, five years prior to the colonization of the entire Korean Peninsula on Aug. 28, 1910, as part of its move to install military facilities in major strategic areas.
Yang bitterly regretted demanding that the United States revise the draft of the peace treaty with Japan in hopes the superpower would agree to clearly define Dokdo and Ieodo, also known as Parangdo, as Korean territory.
Back then, the draft fell short of defining the contentious territorial right to Dokdo, by stating “Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title, and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart (Jeju Island), Port Hamilton (Geomun Island) and Dagelet (Ulleung Island).
The doctor-turned-diplomat realized that his efforts to cement Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo only resulted in Washington’s confirmation of its support for Japan’s territorial claims to the rocky islets, which it had seized illegally against the will of the Korean people.
Still, Yang, who had little knowledge about Dokdo and Ieodo, having spent most of his life in the United States, found himself helpless to wage a diplomatic war against America, which deployed more than a million troops to protect his home country.
“Korea could not file any complaint against Rusk’s letter,” said Hosaka Yuji, a Japanese expert on Dokdo and a professor at Sejong University in Korea, noting that South Korea’s top priority at that time was fighting against the armies of the communist North and China.
Legitimacy of Rusk’s letter
The Rusk document now remains part of the strongest evidence the Japanese government uses to support its argument that 48 countries that signed the peace treaty with Japan on Sept. 9, 1951 decided to make Korea renounce its claim over Dokdo.
Many Korean diplomats and Dokdo experts are still cautious about discussing the diplomatic cable because it shows Washington rejected Korea’s request to settle the dispute over Dokdo about a year before the peace treaty was signed.
Hosaka, however, is not hesitant to discuss the topic as he firmly believes Rusk’s letter falls far short of establishing a basis for defining the legal ownership of Dokdo.
“For knowing that the Japanese government has often deliberately distorted historical truth, I studied Rusk’s letter in the firm belief that Tokyo’s claim on the issue would have been quite falsified,” he said.
The professor’s research found that Rusk’s document was a secret letter sent to Korea in an effort to make the frail war-torn country renounce its sovereignty on Dokdo for its own strategic purposes against the will of the allied powers.
He underscored that the United States did not reveal its intention to give Dokdo to Tokyo to other countries as other allied nations would have refused to sign the peace treaty.
Hosaka suspects Washington decided not to return Dokdo to its rightful owner Korea as the rocky islets could have been used as a strategic military outpost if the entire peninsula fell into the hands of the communists.
“The United States changed its stance on Dokdo after war broke out on the peninsula,” he said. “It feared that the communists could have absolute control over the East Sea if the South lost the war.”
He argues that the United States would have wanted to use Dokdo as a Maginot Line of defense against communization in Asia. Japan also suggested the U.S. military use the barren islets as a bombing range and a radar station site while lobbying Washington to include Dokdo in its territory.
Hosaka underscores that people should not jump to the wrong conclusion that Rusk’s letter reflects a joint agreement by signatory members of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, saying it was an expression of one country’s view rather than the final decision of that treaty.
“Though the treaty does not mention Dokdo, it is wrong to interpret that the pact defined the islets as Japanese territory,” he said. “Rusk’s letter was no more than an expression of Washington’s stance at that time.”
A diplomatic cable from the Japanese Embassy in 1952 clearly shows the real intentions of Washington’s stance.
“The rocks, which are fertile seal breeding grounds, were at one time part of the Kingdom of Korea. However, during the course of this imperial control, the Japanese government formally incorporated this territory into the metropolitan area of Japan and placed it administratively under the control of one of the Japanese prefectures.” it reads.
“The rocks, standing as they do in the open waters of the Japan Sea between Korea and Japan, have a certain utility to the United Nations aircraft returning from bombing runs in North Korean territory. They provide a radar point which will permit the dumping of unexpended bomb loads in an identifiable area.”
Hosaka points out that the allied powers reached a consensus that Dokdo should be given to Korea and that this stance was not altered until the signing of the peace treaty because of around two dozen drafts of the peace treaty, only the one made on Dec. 19, 1949 states the view of the allied countries.
“Allied and Associated Powers agree that there shall be transferred in full sovereignty to the Republic of Korea all rights and titles to the Korean mainland territory and all offshore Korean islands, including Quelpart (Saishu To), the Nan How group (San To, or Komun Do) which forms Port Hamilton (Tonaikai), Degelet Island (Utsuryo To, or Matsu Shima), Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima),” it reads.
He adds that the Allied Powers’ decision to include Dokdo as Korean territory can be seen also from the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ), which members of the United Nations decided in 1950.
KADIZ, which is still effective as of today, indicates that Dokdo is part of South Korean territory.
Excerpts from Rusk’s letter
Dr. You Chan Yang,
Ambassador of Korea.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your notes of July 19 and August 2, 1951 presenting certain requests for the consideration of the Government of the United States with regard to the draft treaty of peace with Japan.
With respect to request of the Korean Government that Article 2(a) of the draft be revised to provide that Japan "confirms that it renounced on August 9, 1945, all right, title and claim to Korea and the islands which were part of Korea prior to its annexation by Japan, including the islands Quelpart, Port Hamilton, Dagelet, Dokdo and Parangdo," the United States Government regrets that it is unable to concur in this proposed amendment.
The United States Government does not feel that the Treaty should adopt the theory that Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration on August 9, 1945 constituted a formal or final renunciation of sovereignty by Japan over the areas dealt with in the Declaration.
As regards the island of Dokdo, otherwise known as Takeshima or Liancourt Rocks, this normally uninhabited rock formation was according to our information never treated as part of Korea and, since about 1905, has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands Branch Office of Shimane Prefecture of Japan...
For the Secretary of State:
An official correspondence from Dean Rusk, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, dated on Aug. 10, 1951 reveals that Washington was against the earlier decision of the allied powers to make Japan renounce Dokdo, which had been a part of Korean territory from the 6th Century. The United States, however, failed to convince allied powers to reverse their earlier decision to return Dokdo to Korea despite its desire to make the rocky islets as a strategic military base.
FROM : AMEMBASSY,TOKYO, October 3, 1952
TO : THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE WASHINGTON
In the constant clash of interests which continues exacerbate relations between Japan and Korea, there has recently occurred a minor incident which may achieve larger proportions in the near future, and which may introduce repercussions affecting the United States.
The incident concerns the disputed territory known as the Liancourt Rocks, or Dokto Islands, the sovereignty to which is in dispute between Korea and Japan. The history of these rocks has been reviewed more than once by the Department, and does not need extensive recounting here.
The rocks, which are fertile seal breeding grounds, were at one time part of the Kingdom of Korea.
They were of course, annexed together with the remaining territory of Korea when Japan extended its Empire over the former Korean State.
However, during the course of this imperial control, the Japanese Government formally incorporated this territory into the metropolitan area of Japan and placed it administratively under the control of one of the Japanese prefecture....
The rocks, standing as they do in the open waters of the Japan Sea between Korea and Japan, have a certain utility to the United Nations aircraft returning from bombing runs in North Korean territory.
An official correspondence from the Japanese Embassy to the U.S. State Department dated on Oct. 3, 1952 shows that Washington unmistakably knew that Dokdo has long been a part of Korean territory before being annexed by Japan in 1905. It clearly reveals that the United States wanted to use Dokdo for their military purpose, which Japan encouraged to do so in return for allowing it to exercise sovereignty over the Korean easternmost islets.