[Silver Prize Winners] Breach of international law in 1905
Based on strong evidence, the Japanese annexation of Korea’s Dokdo in 1905 based on an international law principle terra nullius is illegitimate and a strong act of aggression. The Japanese Government’s main claim to the islets is based on their assumption that Korea did not exercise sovereignty over Dokdo before 1905.
Therefore, under terra nullius ― international law that allows for the incorporation of the land of nobody ― they had the right to place Dokdo in their jurisdiction of the Oki Islands branch office of the Shimane Prefectural Government. However, this is a conspicuous error as there is a tremendous amount of evidence which dates as far back as the 6th century proving Korea’s rightful claim to the islets.
Dokdo, a group of islets in the East Sea, is on record to be a territory of Korea since the unified Shilla period. The first written evidence can be found in “Samguk Sagi,” a 6th century book on Korea’s history. The text clearly illustrates how Isabu, a general of Shilla, conquers and annexes, Usan-guk. Many historical records including “Sejong Shillok Jiriji” (published in 1454 A.D.) mention that Usan-guk is comprised of Ulleungdo and Dokdo.
The texts depicts them as islands in the East Sea that are far enough that they can only be seen from each other a clear day. Aside from Ulleungdo and Dokdo, no other islands in the East Sea fit the description. In the same vein, Dokdo cannot be seen from any part of Japan.
If the earlier texts are not adequate to prove Korea’s possession of Dokdo, Korea’s Imperial Decree No. 41 of 1900, (merely five years before Japan’s annexation of Dokdo) unmistakably places Dokdo under the jurisdiction of the Ulleungdo County Office.
On October 25, 1900, Korea issued an ordinance, a part of a series of administrative actions that included Ulleugdo, a subordinate province of Uljin Prefecture, to be renamed Uldo and be promoted to county status. In addition, the decree gave the Uldo County Office authority to rule over all of Uldo proper and its dependencies including Jukdo and Seokdo (“Stone Island”, refers to present day Dokdo).
Japan contests the aforementioned decree by arguing that there is no evidence that identifies “Sokdo” as present day “Dokdo” yielding to their main assertion that there is no record that shows any Korean occupation before the Japanese annexation of Dokdo in 1905. This however, does not explain or refute the fact that Koreans living in Ulleungdo specifically referred to Dokdo as “Dokseom”, meaning “Stone Island.” In addition, the name “Seokdo” mentioned in Korea’s Imperial Decree No. 41 was simply a logographic translation.
Japan’s claim is further refuted by King Gojong’s Ulleungdo Reclamation Program issued in 1881 which puts Dokdo under the management of seasonal Korean fishermen and divers. South Korean scholars have documented that even before Japan’s annexation of Dokdo, these fishermen and divers were engaged in “whaling” and in the hunting of sea lions which were then exported to surrounding areas including Japan.
Apart from the invalidity of terra nullius in this case, it is erroneous for Japan to claim ignorance due to the level of transparency Korea has maintained with regards to the decrees and texts. Korea’s Imperial Decree No. 41 was published in the Official Gazette No. 1716 in 1900.
This periodical was then distributed to the international community including but not limited to Imperial Japan. On the other hand, Japan’s Shimane Prefecture Notice No. 40 of 1905 was a clandestine document, forbidden to duplicate. This alleged document was not issued by the central government of that period, but merely the local government.
Japan strongly emphasizes that the notice was printed in a private local (not national) newspaper within the Shimane Prefecture. In comparison to the Imperial Decree, the notice in a local newspaper is trivial and less legally-binding in the acquisition of Dokdo.
Cartography also provides compelling evidence supporting Korea’s legitimate claim over Dokdo. 18th Century maps from both Korea and Japan visibly illustrate Dokdo within the territorial borders of Korea. “Carte de la Coree”, a map of Korea completed in 1846 by Dae-Gun Kim was brought to Europe and was used as a prototype for many later European maps. This map along with its descendants distinctly shows Dokdo as part of Korea. Labeled in French, the map shows present day Dokdo as “Ousan,” a phonetic transliteration of “Usan.”
Historical data supports the fact that Dokdo has been part of Korean territory for as far back as the 6th century, up until the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1905 and 1945. When Japan was defeated in WWII in August of 1945, Korea reaffirmed its sovereignty. On August 15, 1948, Dokdo was handed back to the newly established Republic of Korea by the U.S. XXIV Corps representing all the nations of the Allied Powers.
Japan continues to maintain that Dokdo was wrongfully transferred to South Korea by calling attention to the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, where both South and North Korea were not invited to attend. The treaty specifies that Japan should recognize Korea’s independence and further, “renounce all rights, titles and claims to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet.”
The treaty’s exclusion of Dokdo as part of Korea’s islets to be renounced adds to Japan’s evidence to explain their act of aggression, when the transfer of Dokdo to the Korean government already confirms the Allied Powers’ acknowledgement of Korean sovereignty over the islets concerned. Finally, Japan’s signing of the Potsdam Declaration in August of 1945 validates the transfer and makes it binding as the act was an “exercise of the determination of the Japanese territory by the Allied Powers.” The treaty gives the Allied Powers legally binding powers to do so.
Dokdo has been rightfully and legitimately administered by South Korea since August 15, 1948 to the present day. It is evident that based on the numerous different sources provided, Japan does not have any right to claim these islets.
Furthermore, until present day, Japan has been continuously pursuing disputed islands with other countries such as Russia, Taiwan and China, raising suspicion that their act of aggression stems from their lack of land and resources. Their act of aggression towards South Korea should be brought to end immediately.
The writer is a law student at Yonsei University. She is currently studying as an exchange student at Shandong University in China. She can be reached at email@example.com.