3. Legal and Ethical Responsibility for Japan’s Colonial Past and Its Understanding in Terms of International Law
In April, 2006 the Japanese government made a unilateral declaration that it would conduct a hydrographical survey on the Korean side of the exclusive economic zone, which includes Dokdo. This declaration caused controversy. Following the dispute, the Japanese government published a special statement on the relationship between Japan and Korea in which it defined Dokdo as just one of the thousands of islands belonging to Korea, which is not true. Dokdo was one of the first territories that Japan took as its own in the process of colonization. In addition, this issue is a touchstone to test the willingness of the Japanese government to admit to past wrongs, as well as other issues such as visits to Yasukuni Shrine and distortions in history textbooks, and to create a new future for both countries and the entire East Asia region.
Korean patriots being sentenced in a Japanese court
There are no legal precedents as of yet to settle territorial disputes between a colonized country and a colonizing one, which makes the problem between Korea and Japan all the more difficult to resolve. This also makes the Dokdo issue quite different from the territorial disputes involving the Kuril Islands and the Senkaku Islands. The Dokdo issue also is distinct from the disputes currently pending at the International Court of Justice.
The Japanese government is endeavoring to limit the Dokdo dispute narrowly within the boundary of legality, rather than seeing it as an issue bearing numerous historical implications. That is because if this matter is treated as a historical issue, Japan would be in a difficult position because the government has denied its territorial rights to Dokdo on three different occasions in its own official documents and the island has always been a part of Korea historically. That is why the Japanese government is attempting to see this matter not as a historical issue. In contrast, the Korean government considers this matter both as historical and territorial in nature. Dokdo has historically been Korea’s inherent territory for centuries, a fact that has been made clear in numerous extant documents and books. The island was the first victim of the imperialist onslaught that began in 1905. It is imperative for the Japanese government to face historical facts and abandon the territorial ambitions to Dokdo pursued since 1905 through manipulating international law.