“Dokdo,” an Island Redolent of Korean Culture
Dokdo-ri 1~96, Ulleung-eup, Ulleung-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do (North Gyeongsang Province), Republic of Korea. This is Dokdo’s address. Dokdo occupies the easternmost location in Korea’s national territory, and is located 216.8km east of Uljin County in and 87.4km from Ulleungdo. Dokdo consists of 89 small rocky islets as well as Dongdo (East Island) and Seodo (West Island) facing each other over the marine plateau 10 meters deep. The total area comes to 187,564 square meters, not even the size of Yeouido Park in Seoul. Sitting in the center of the 2,000 meters deep East Sea, what does this island-which has seagulls for companions-mean to the Korean people?
Members of the Dokdo Volunteer Garrison risking their lives to protect Dokdo
Dokdo is imbued with the memories and tracies of our ancestors since ancient times. As a subordinate island of Ulleungdo, it has long shared the same joys and sorrows of Korea at the country’s easternmost end. The ancestors of the Korean people have braved death to protect Dokdo. Ahn Yong-Bok risked his life during the period of the Joseon Dynasty, and so did the Dokdo Volunteer Garrison during the time of chaos at the end of the Korean War. They did so precisely because Dokdo is an island with the blood and sweat left by the ancestors of the Korean people, and cannot be taken from them.
This island is imbued with a special history and is especially loved by Koreans. Dokdo was the first target of Imperial Japan in its invasion of the Korean peninsula, but on Liberation Day, August 15, 1945, it was returned to Korea.
However, Japan maintains that its colonial rule of Korea was legal, and that Korea is currently illegally occupying Dokdo. For Japan to make this territorial claim to this island is no different from denying the complete restoration of sovereignty to Korea. This can only be seen as a unilateral action on Japan’s part which is tainted by neoimperialistic thinking, and which refuses to atone for that country’s shameful past. Korea will not compromise even a little with a Japan that denies the former’s autonomy and the true history which transpired between the two countries.
“Japan’s present claim to Dokdo is tantamount to maintaining a right to what it had once occupied during an imperialist war of aggression and, what is worse, to reasserting colonial territorial rights of bygone years. This is an act of negating the complete liberation and independence of Korea.”
“We will continue to muster every measure of our national strength and diplomatic resources until the day when the Japanese Government remedies these wrongdoings.”
- Special message by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Korea-Japan Relations, April 25, 2006
For the Japanese government to insist upon ownership of Dokdo revives painful memories of the past among the citizens of a nation which are closest to it in terms of both history and geography. For Japan to revive memories of how it, as an imperialist nation, only thought of satisfying its own greed cannot be good for Japan either. As long as the Japanese government continues to make claims to Dokdo, the people of Korea and East Asia will not be able to heal from the scars inflicted on them by Imperial Japan.
The Korean people hope to cooperate with Japan to set right their recognition of history and bring about an era of peace and prosperity for Northeast Asia in the 21 century. For this to happen, Japan must stop making baseless demands that Dokdo is its territory.
- [note 015]
- Ahn Yong-bok lived during the reign of King Sukjong of the Joseon Dynasty, and crossed over to Japan and received a promise from the Japanese government that it would recognize Ulleungdo and Dokdo as the territory of Joseon. He did so after he and more than forty other fishermen spotted a Japanese fishing boat working in Ulleungdo. Japan took this opportunity to officially recognize the two islands as belonging to Joseon and sent a document to the Joseon government stating that the Japanese government had issued a standing order forbidding Japanese fishermen from entering Ulleungdo.
- [note 016]
- This was a purely civilian organization which protected Dokdo and confronted Japanese fishing and patrol boats which invaded the island’s waters from April 20, 1953 to December 30, 1956. Led by Commander Hong Sun-chil, the thirty-three youths of the Dokdo Volunteer Garrison (Dokdo Uiyong Subidae) were mostly combatants who had participated in the Korean War. Equipped with inferior weaponry, they protected Dokdo by launching attacks against Japanese patrol boats and aircraft that threatened the island.