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 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 , 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 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 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.A man from Shimane Prefecture named (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” 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|
|Incorporation via Regional Notice|
Ⓐ 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.
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 had gone into effect, effectively removing any possibility of a protest to the Japanese government. However, the Korean Daily Report, Capital Gazette
, and historian (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 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 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.
|Ulleungdo||Dagelet Island||Argonaut Island|
|Dokdo||Dongdo : Menelai||Hornet Island (Hornet Rocks)|
|Seodo : Olivutsa|