• Dokdo in the East Sea
  • Controversies surrounding Dokdo
  • The History of Dokdo

Why does Japan want to take the Dokdo Issue to the International Court of Justice?

While disregarding its own history of having seized Dokdo from Korea, Japan has been trying to refer the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice.[note 010] The court uses the principle of “effective control” as an important standard in adjudicating problems of ownership, and Japan uses the following two types of evidence as proof that it has practiced such rule.
A Tokugawa Bakufu document recognizing Ulleungdo as Joseon’s territory(1696)
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The first is that while in the process of conducting business on Ulleungdo during the seventeenth century, Japan discovered Dokdo and used it as a port of call. The Japanese place special emphasis on the fact that in the mid-seventeenth century, the Ōya and Murakawa families received licenses from the government to sail the seas around Dokdo and engaged in fishing on the island. The Japanese also argue that when the Tokugawa Bakufu recognized Ulleungdo as Joseon’s territory in 1696, it excluded Dokdo.
But this logic is forced. Since Joseon had instituted a policy of leaving Ulleungdo vacant,[note 011] Japan’s supposed “effective control of Ulleungdo” was no different from a thief running a business on property which was not his.
The policy was introduced to deal with the marauding Japanese pirates which had been a constant problem since the end of the Goryeo Dynasty. If Koreans had been living on Ulleungdo, Japanese pirates would most likely have pillaged their settlements, and then nearby Gangwon-do would most likely have fallen to their depredations as well. Therefore, the Joseon government kept the island vacant to protect Koreans living on its frontier.
The “Swaehwan-jeongchaek” policy as recorded in the Annals of King Taejong, “Taejong sillok”
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If an argument were to be made for “effective control,” the Joseon government’s enforcement of the olicy of Leaving Ulleungdo Vacant[note 012] would be one good example. This policy also included the regular dispatch of officials to patrol the islands and make sure they were kept safe, clear proof of rule by the Joseon government. However, the Japanese interpret the enactment of this policy as abandonment of territory and a discontinuity of effective control.
The enactment of the “Suto Jedo” as recorded in the Annals of King Sukjong, “Sukjong Sillok”
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Although islands which people cannot live on can be called “uninhabitable,” enacting a policy like that does not nullify the status of islands like Ulleungdo as the territory of Joseon. The fact remains that in the seventeenth century Joseon demanded and received a promise from Japan that Japanese citizens would not be allowed to sail to Ulleungdo because of the problems they had caused while fishing and felling wood on the island. In addition, the Joseon government instituted a system known as the “Suto Jedo,” whereby a government investigator was sent every three years to Ulleungdo to make certain the Japanese were keeping their promise.
The Japanese choose to view the policy as an abandonment of territory by Joseon because they want to justify their baseless assertion that Dokdo is Japanese territory.
Japan also says that it issued licenses known as Tokai menkyo allowing Japanese to sail to Dokdo, and in this manner continued to manage the island’s affairs. However, these licenses were only issued by Japan to sailors traveling across national boundaries, and were not needed for those wanting to travel to islands within Japanese territorial limits. Rather, the issuance of these licenses by the Japanese government is clear evidence that Japan did not recognize Ulleungdo and Dokdo as its own territory. In addition, in an age when all land belonged to feudal lords in Japan, the Tokugawa Bakufu would never have given parts of Dokdo to commoner families such as the Ōya and Murakawa. Most importantly, we have discovered that no travel permits to Dokdo exist at all, and that at most only single-use permits were issued for those traveling to Ulleungdo. Japan thinks it can argue for ownership of these islands based on such flimsy evidence.
The second piece of evidence which Japan cites as proof of effective control is its administration of Dokdo after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and during the period which it had ruled Korea as a colony.
For example, it cites the proclamation of “Shimane Prefectural Notice No.40” in 1905, which placed Dokdo under the jurisdiction of the Governor of the Oki Islands, the entry of Dokdo into the register of government-owned land, visits to Dokdo by the governor of Shimane Prefecture and other Japanese officials, the issuance of a permit to Nakai Yosaburōto trap sea lions on Dokdo and the deposit of fees collected from Nakai for his use of the island into the national treasury every year, the Japanese government’s revision of rules dealing with fishing, and the ban instituted by the Japanese government against catching anything other than sea lions in the areas around Dokdo.
In 1902, the Japanese arbitrarily built a police station on Ulleungdo (1905)
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However, all these took place after Japan had defeated Russia in 1905. During the time Japan invaded all areas of Joseon in an organized manner, with Dokdo being no exception. Even so, Japan maintains that its “administration” of Dokdo was proof of effective control.
The Dokdo issue is not a case that the International Court of Justice can legally rule upon or solve. Only when Japan atones for its history of invasion and recognizes true history will this matter be solved in and of itself.
“Dokdo for us is not merely a matter pertaining to territorial rights over tiny islets but is emblematic of bringing closure to an unjust chapter in our history with Japan and of the full consolidation of Korea’s sovereignty.”
- Special message by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Korea-Japan Relations, April 25, 2006
 
That Japan only wants to refer the Dokdo issue to the International Court of Justice as part of a political offensive is evident from Japan’s attitude in handling other territorial disputes. Japan believes that it would lose if it brought a case to the court regarding the dispute of the Southern Kuriles,[note 013] and that the situation regarding the dispute over the Senkaku Islands[note 014] would not be much improved even if it did win the case. Hence, Japan has refused to refer these two disputes to the court. Japan has only Korea to refer Dokdo to the court because it wishes to cover up its history of seizing the island, wants to spread propaganda about its own views, and because even if Japan loses due to evidence that Korea practiced effective control of Dokdo, the situation would still not get much worse for Japan.

 
[note 010]
This court was established at the same time as the United Nations in 1945, and is one of the main organs of the UN. It goes by the abbreviation of ICJ, and is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mission is to solve disputes between countries according to international law. It does not have compulsory jurisdiction, and except in special cases does not begin a trial based on only the request of one party.
[note 011]
This is the name of the policy whereby the Joseon government protected Koreans living on the frontier by moving them to other safe areas. The government instituted this policy in the islands such as Ulleungdo and Geojedo to protect both its subjects and to guard against foreign invasion.
[note 012]
This is the name of the policy whereby the Joseon government protected Koreans living on the frontier by moving them to other safe areas. The government instituted this policy in the islands such as Ulleungdo and Geojedo to protect both its subjects and to guard against foreign invasion.
[note 013]
These islands are located 420km east of China, 200km northeast of Taiwan, and 300km southwest of Okinawa. The five uninhabited islands of Diaoyu are composed partially of coral reef and measure a total of 6.3 square kilometers. China and Japan dispute possession of these islands, but Japan currently occupies them.
[note 014]
These are composed of the lower Kurile islands northeast of Hokkaidō, and include Etorofu, Kunashiri, Habomai, and Shikotan. The four islands measure a total of 5,000 square kilometers. Japan and Russia dispute possession of these islands, but Russia currently occupies them.
[note 010] The International Court of Justice
This court was established at the same time as the United Nations in 1945, and is one of the main organs of the UN. It goes by the abbreviation of ICJ, and is located in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mission is to solve disputes between countries according to international law. It does not have compulsory jurisdiction, and except in special cases does not begin a trial based on only the request of one party.
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[note 011] Policy of Leaving Ulleungdo Vacant (Swaehwan-jeongchaek)
This is the name of the policy whereby the Joseon government protected Koreans living on the frontier by moving them to other safe areas. The government instituted this policy in the islands such as Ulleungdo and Geojedo to protect both its subjects and to guard against foreign invasion.
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[note 012] Policy of Leaving Ulleungdo Vacant (Swaehwan-jeongchaek)
This is the name of the policy whereby the Joseon government protected Koreans living on the frontier by moving them to other safe areas. The government instituted this policy in the islands such as Ulleungdo and Geojedo to protect both its subjects and to guard against foreign invasion.
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[note 013] Diaoyu Islands (known as the “Senkaku Islands” in Japanese)
These islands are located 420km east of China, 200km northeast of Taiwan, and 300km southwest of Okinawa. The five uninhabited islands of Diaoyu are composed partially of coral reef and measure a total of 6.3 square kilometers. China and Japan dispute possession of these islands, but Japan currently occupies them.
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[note 014] The Southern Kuriles (known as “HoppōRyōdo” in Japanese)
These are composed of the lower Kurile islands northeast of Hokkaidō, and include Etorofu, Kunashiri, Habomai, and Shikotan. The four islands measure a total of 5,000 square kilometers. Japan and Russia dispute possession of these islands, but Russia currently occupies them.
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