2. Japan’s response to territorial disputes with neighboring nations and Dokdo
The Senkaku Islands and the Kuril Islands
To better understand the issue of Dokdo, one must examine other related issues involving the Kuril and Senkaku islands (Diaoyu Islands) over which the Japanese government claims sovereignty. Of the three islands in dispute, the Japanese government has de facto sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands only. As for the Kuril Islands, they are effectively occupied by the Russian government, just as Dokdo is occupied by the Korean government. Accordingly, the Japanese government stresses the legal and historical validity of its de facto sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands while highlighting the fact that the disputants’ occupation of the Kuril Islands and Dokdo is illegal in light of international law and historical precedents.
What is notable, however, is that Dokdo is the only case in which the Japanese government proposed to the other side that the issue be referred to the International Court of Justice. As for the four Kuril Islands, the Japanese government has never sought legal settlement through the International Court of Justice even though it has continuously claimed that the islands were illegally occupied by Russia. It has tried to solve the Kuril problem through diplomatic channels only. Even though Japan and Russia resumed their diplomatic relations in 1955, they have yet to sign a peace treaty. In consideration of these complicated circumstances, the Japanese government is unable to raise the “northern territory” issue with the Russian government by going to the International Court of Justice.
What, then, about Dokdo? Since the signing of the Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty in 1965 the Japanese government has not offered to the Korean side to solve the issue at the International Court of Justice. As the Treaty of Basic Relations was a peace agreement, there are no more territorial issues left to discuss in principle. Nevertheless, the Japanese government claimed on its foreign ministry website that it had proposed to the Korean counterpart in 1962 to resolve the dispute with the International Court of Justice, to which proposal the Korean government had refused. This suggests that the Japanese government has not abandoned entirely the idea of filing a suit with the international court, though it has not yet done so.
Comparing the Japanese government’s approaches with Russia and with Korea, one can find a clear difference. That is, to date Japan has sought a legal solution with Korea through the International Court of Justice while insisting on diplomatic routes with Russia. These differing approaches can be explained as Japan’s relationship with the United States. It expects to get support from the United States government when it comes to Dokdo, but can expect no such assistance for the four Kuril islands. That means territorial claims for the Japanese government have little to do with pursuit of truth, but moreso with a political power game. The reason it is pressuring the Korean government by hinting at a solution through a lawsuit with the international court, even though it well knows that such recourse would be impossible after the Normalization Treaty of 1965, may be based on the calculation that it wishes to win a right for joint management for Dokdo.
As for the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands) over which the Japanese government has de facto sovereignty, in contrast, the Japanese government would never accept any move by the Chinese government or the Taiwanese government to refer to the International Court of Justice. This is a clear case of self-contradiction to seek narrow national interest. The claims of the Japanese government may be summarized as follows: “All our positions and contentions are righteous and all positions and contentions suggested by our adversary are wrong.” This is rather consistent with the Japanese government’s unapologetic attitude toward the contentious issues of history textbooks, visits to Yasukuni Shrine by government leaders, and sex slaves during World War II.