• Dokdo in the East Sea
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  • High School Version

2. The Russo-Japanese War and the Invasion of Dokdo

Explain Japan’s illegal annexation of Dokdo.
Explain the contradiction behind Japan’s claims of Dokdo sovereignty and terra nullius preemption.
Critical Thinking
In 1877, Japan had stated through the Daijōkan Order that Dokdo was not Japanese territory. However, Japan illegally annexed Dokdo as Japanese territory in 1905. What was the motivation behind this?

Russo-Japanese War and Dokdo

Japan won the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, and began to occupy Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula. Although Japan was emerging as a powerhouse in the Far East, pressure from the Tripartite Intervention meant that they had to forfeit the Liaodong Peninsula. Although Japan and Russia agreed to not interfere with Korea’s internal affairs, in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, Russia’s de facto occupation of Manchuria and its territorial ambitions triggered a war between the two countries over the control of Manchuria and Korea. At this time, Japan coerced Korea into signing the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904 on February 23, 1904, which set in motion Japan’s eventual annexation of Korea.
On February 8, 1904, the Russo-Japanese War began when the Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack against the Russian fleet. To monitor Russian fleet movement, the Japanese Navy built watchtowers in Jejudo, Geomundo, Ulleungdo, Ulsan, and Jukbyeonman before the outbreak of the war. Two watchtowers were installed on Ulleungdo in August 1904.
The Japanese fleet engaged in battle on May 27-28, 1905, annihilating the Russian Baltic fleet and all but securing victory in the war. In the process, Dokdo’s strategic value had emerged. A watchtower was built on Dokdo in July 1905, and a military communication system that connected Ulleungdo, Dokdo, and Matsue, in Shimane Prefecture, was completed. On September 5, 1905, the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed, ending the Russo-Japanese War. Russia recognized Japan’s influence over Korea, and Japan’s full-scale annexation of Korea began.
Activity 1
Create a timeline for the Boxer Rebellion, the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904, and the Treaty of Portsmouth, and examine Japan’s policy for territorial expansion.

Dokdo’s Illegal Annexation

During the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had recognized the strategic value of Dokdo. Having had previous experience in incorporating foreign uninhabited islands during the war, Japan looked for an opportunity to annex Dokdo.Dokdo sea lionA man from Shimane Prefecture named Nakai Yōzaburō(1864-1934) had been focused on promising business ventures. He consulted with Japanese officials regarding his plans to obtain a lease for Dokdo from the Joseon government and gain exclusive fishing rights. Officials from the Japanese Navy told Nakai Yōzaburō that “Dokdo is terra nullius (land belonging to no one), and it is closer to Japan.” Thus, on September 29, 1904, he submitted the “Request for the Territorial Incorporation of XXX”Liancodo to Japan’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce.

Sequence for annexation by Japan in the mid-nineteenth century

Discovery of Terra Nullius
Migration and Economic Activity
Cabinet Decision
Incorporation via Regional Notice
Government Loan
Ⓐ Japanese cabinet decision regarding Dokdo annexation
Ⓑ Shimane Prefecture Notice No. 40
Ⓐ Although the document states, “There is no evidence that another country would claim sovereignty,” this is historically inaccurate.
Ⓑ But a small number of residents were aware of this notice, as it was informed to the authorities in Aika-mura, in Shimane Prefecture.
At the time, an official in the Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs was against the annexation of Korea and stated, “If we incorporate Dokdo, which looks to be Korean territory, the international community watching us will suspect that Japan has intentions to annex Korea.” However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by stating, “Erecting a watchtower on Dokdo and installing radio capabilities or underwater communications cables would be ideal for monitoring enemy fleets.”
In accordance with this petition, the Japanese government cabinet agreed to the incorporation on January 28, 1905. About a month later, on February 22, the “Shimane Prefecture Notice No. 40” was issued. The decision to annex Dokdo was made unilaterally without any prior inquiry or notice being given to the Korean Empire.
Activity 2
Analyze the differing opinions between the Japanese Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in regarding the annexation of Dokdo.

llegality of Japan’s Annexation of Dokdo Under International Law

Japan’s annexation of Dokdo is invalid under international law. Dokdo was not terra nullius (land belonging to no one) in 1905. Japan has defended the annexation by claiming that Dokdo was terra nullius in 1905, and that Japanese fishermen were using the area as a fishery. They have claimed “terra nullius preemption,” and that Dokdo’s name and domain had to be defined to be incorporated in accordance with international law.
However, Korea has long-recognized Dokdo as its territory, and Imperial Ordinance No. 41 of the Korean Empire in 1900 legally reaffirmed this fact. Japan’s terra nullius preemption claim is a direct contradiction to its other claim that Japan had effectively controlled Dokdo as its own territory since the seventeenth century.
In addition, Japan’s annexation of Dokdo has procedural issues. For Western countries, such as the United States, Japan had filed notices or requested consultations. But the annexation of Dokdo was a completely unilateral act without any prior notice or consultation. Unlike other islands that Japan had annexed, Dokdo and its related Ulleungdo are situated between Korea and Japan. Furthermore, Ulleungdo had previously been subject of a territorial dispute between the two countries in the seventeenth century. Yet, Japan never communicated with Korea about the annexation of Dokdo even though the island had been discussed along with Ulleungdo in the previous dispute.
Activity 3
Explain the contradiction in Japan’s claims of “terra nullius preemption” and “original sovereignty.”

Japanese Records Regarding Dokdo

The logbook of the Japanese cruiser Niitaka recorded on September 25, 1904, “Liancourt Rocks: Koreans call it Dokdo, and Japanese fishermen refer to it as Yankodo.”
This signifies that the Japanese government was aware of Korea’s use of the name “Dokdo” four months prior to the Japanese annexation of the island.

Sim Heung-taek (沈興澤)Reports of Japan’s Annexation of Dokdo

Deputy Prime Minister Order No. 3 (left), Lee Myeong-nae’s report (right)
Although Japan annexed Dokdo, this information was never published in an official gazette or sent to the Korean Empire. Thus, the Korean Empire was unaware of Dokdo’s annexation for more than one year. The Korean government eventually became aware after Japanese officials from Shimane Prefecture surveyed Ulleungdo in late March 1906. A 45-person inspection team surveyed Dokdo and then went to Ulleungdo and notified Sim Heung-taek that Japan had occupied Dokdo. Sim filed a report to the Gangwon-do Chuncheon County Magistrate Lee Myeong-nae on March 29, 1906. In turn, Lee notified the Deputy Prime Minister Park Je-sun, and he issued “Order No. 3,” which stated, “There is no basis for Japan’s claim of Dokdo. Reinvestigate Dokdo’s situation and the activities of the Japanese and report back.” –

The Korean Empire’s Response to Japan’s Illegal Annexation of Dokdo

By the time the Korean Empire became aware of Dokdo’s annexation by Japan in March 1906, the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty had gone into effect, effectively removing any possibility of a protest to the Japanese government. However, the Korean Daily Report, Capital Gazette, and historian Hyeon Hwang(1855-1910) published articles in protest.
Uldo County Magistrate Sim Heung-taek reported,
“A committee of Japanese officials came to Uldo County and claimed Dokdo as Japanese territory. They recorded boundaries, surface area, and other geographical information. The Ministry of Home Affairs had replied, ‘Although recording survey information is not unusual, the fact that Dokdo was claimed to be Japanese territory is very surprising.’”
Korean Daily Report (May 1, 1906)
Uldo County Magistrate Sim Heung-taek reported,
“Dokdo is in the Uldo County jurisdiction and located approximately 100 ri from shore. On the fourthday of this month, a committee of officials from Japan came to the administration office and stated, ‘Dokdo is now Japanese territory and we’re here for an inspection.’ The committee included Shimane Prefecture Oki Islands Official Higashi Bunsuke, Secretary Jinzai Yoshitarō, Tax Director Yoshida Heigo, Assistant Director Kageyama Kanhachirō, one police officer, one elected official, one doctor, one technician, and approximately 10 other members. They recorded the population, resources, and various other types of administrative information.”
Capital Gazette (May 9, 1906)

Japan’s Exploitation of Resources after Annexation

Dokdo was a habitat for sea lions. Sea lions were a profitable source of leather, food, and lamp oil. As Dokdo was illegally annexed by Japan, Nakai Yozaburo, who wanted a monopoly over fishing rights in the area, started a joint venture with three other fishermen, and sea lions were poached en masse.
An annual average of 1,300 sea lions were hunted and killed by Japan from 1905 to 1910. As a result of this overhunting, Dokdo’s sea lions became extinct.
In addition, Ulleungdo’s Green vase (Zelkova serrate)squid and abalone were harvested and its resources exploited.

Western Names for Dokdo

Complete Map of the Pacific Ocean
“Map of the Joseon East Sea,” a Russian naval map published in 1857 and revised in 1882Dokdo Elevation Views by the Russian Navy (1854)
Dokdo is known as Liancourt Rocks in the West. On January 27, 1849, a French whaling ship by the name of Le Liancourt came close to being shipwrecked on the rock islands, and they were named after the ship. In 1851, the French Navy produced the “Carte Générale de l'Océan Pacifique” (General Map of the Pacific Ocean), which included “Rochers du Liancourt” and spread knowledge of the islands to the international community.
The Russian corvette Olivutsa sighted Dokdo in 1854, and named Seodo “Olivutsa” and Dongdo “Menelai.” The Russian naval map “Map of the Joseon East Sea,” compiled in 1857, featured Dokdo’s exact location.
In 1855, the British clipper Hornet reported sighting Dokdo and measured its location. The island was labeled as Hornet Island in British naval maps.

Western Names for Ulleungdo

A map from Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan (1856)
Ulleungdo was known to the international community before Dokdo. Ulleungdo was first known to Westerners through its sighting by two French vessels, the La Boussole and the L’Astrolabe. Captain Lapérouse named it Dagelet Island after the officer who spotted the island. In 1791, Ulleungdo was named Argonaut Island after being sighted by a British ship of the same name, but an error in coordinate measurements resulted in the island being shown between the Korean Peninsula and Ulleungdo.
Activity 4
Fill in the blanks with the various Western names for Ulleungdo and Dokdo.

UlleungdoDagelet Island
Argonaut Island
Dongdo : MenelaiHornet Island (Hornet Rocks)

Seodo : Olivutsa

Tripartite Intervention
After winning the Sino-Japanese War, Japan was awarded the Liaodong Peninsula and Taiwan according to the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. However, Russia persuaded Germany and France to apply diplomatic pressure on Japan for return of the Liaodong Peninsula to China.
Boxer Rebellion
An incident in which China’s resistance to foreign and Christian influences culminated in the killing of Westerners and the destruction of churches and railways led by a group known as the Boxers. As the general public joined the movement, the Chinese government declared war on foreign powers. However, the Eight-Nation Alliance intervened and defeated the Chinese forces.
Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904
This was a diplomatic agreement between Korea and Japan for the purpose of annexing Korea. Through this treaty, Japan secured the right to use strategic points in Korea.
Treaty of Portsmouth
Signed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, in the United States, this treaty formally ended the Russo-Japanese War.
Dokdo sea lion
A species of seal that inhabited Dokdo
Nakai Yōzaburō
A Japanese fisherman and entrepreneur from Shimane Prefecture. From sometime in 1903, Nakai Yōzaburō hunted sea lions in Dokdo and had ambitions to monopolize the area for himself. He initiated the annexation of Dokdo in 1905.
Japanese transliteration of the name Liancourt Rocks; also known as Yankodo
Sim Heung-taek (沈興澤)
Born in 1855, Sim Heung-taek served as the Uldo County magistrate for approximately three years from 1903.
Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty
Signed in 1905, the treaty deprived the Korean Empire of its diplomatic sovereignty and made it a protectorate of Japan.
Hyeon Hwang
Also known as Maecheon, this scholar and patriot wrote Personal Accounts of Maecheon and Oha Records. After the annexation of Korea was finalized in 1910, he expressed his despair in four poems and committed suicide.
Green vase (Zelkova serrate)
Wood from this tree is highly valued and often used to produce furniture. People from Japan performed logging operations in Ulleungdo.
Argonaut Island
James Colnett, a British Royal Navy captain, gave the name Argonaut Island after sighting Ulleungdo. However, upon discovering a coordinate error, this island was removed from nautical maps after 1860.
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