Isle row with Seoul a longtime affair

Sovereignty assertion in Japanese teaching supplement revives simmering dispute


Japan announced this week that a new supplementary education guideline will describe South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan, which Seoul calls the East Sea, as part of Japanese territory. The move enraged South Korea, which recalled its ambassador to Japan.

Following are some questions and answers about Takeshima, which South Korea calls Dokdo:

Where are the islets located?

According to the Foreign Ministry’s Web site, the islets are almost equidistant from the two nations’ mainlands — about 211 km from Shimane Prefecture and roughly 215 km from South Korea.

They consist of two main outcroppings and dozens of surrounding small reefs. The entire area covers 0.21 sq. km, about the same as Hibiya Park in Tokyo.

The rocky outcroppings have little in the way of vegetation or potable water.

South Korea has controlled the islets since the 1950s and has stationed a patrol force on them. There is also a heliport and lighthouse.

What kind of natural resources can be found there?

Offshore, cool and warm currents come together to form major fishing grounds. Migratory species such as salmon, squid and shark, as well as kelp and abalone, are abundant in the area.

Around the islets lies a potentially rich natural gas field, according to the Web site of the South Korean provincial government that administers them.

The islets have been a bone of contention between the two nations. What are Japan’s claims?

Tokyo has protested strongly that South Korea is occupying the islets illegally, claiming they are clearly Japan’s inherent territory in light of historical fact and international law.

The Foreign Ministry claims Japan began to use the islets in the 17th century as a stopover en route to nearby islands and as fishing grounds, establishing sovereignty by the mid-17th century.

Tokyo reaffirmed sovereignty by incorporating the islets into Shimane Prefecture in 1905, according to the Foreign Ministry.

During the drafting process of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in 1951 and stipulating Japan’s recognition of Korean independence, the U.S. rejected the Korean request that Tokyo give up the islets, according to the ministry.

What are Seoul’s claims?

The South Korean Embassy’s Web site, citing ancient official documents, says the islets have been genuine Korean territory since 512.

The embassy says that even a Japanese map made in 1785 clearly marks the islets as Korean territory, and documents that the Japanese Army and Navy ministries produced in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) also suggest that was the case.

South Korea argues that even though the San Francisco treaty does not specifically name the islets, Korean territory is not limited to the islands mentioned in the treaty.

How and why did Japan come to decide now to describe the islets as its territory in the education document?

The education ministry says the controversial yet nonbinding document was prepared to supplement a new education guideline for social studies at junior high schools to be used from the 2012 school year.

It will be used by teachers and publishers of textbooks.

The revised document sparked controversy because it mentions Takeshima for the first time.

The document states that the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido’s east coast “are our nation’s inherent territory.”

Although the document does not explicitly say Takeshima is Japan’s inherent territory, it indirectly implies this by referring to the case of “the Northern Territories,” the government’s term for the Russian-held islands. The controversial section states: “It is also necessary to deepen (students’) understandings of our nation’s territory in the same way as the Northern Territories, by referring to the fact that the differences exist between claims of our nation and South Korea over Takeshima.”

The education ministry says circumstances have changed since the current document was produced in 1998.

“Especially regarding Takeshima, Shimane Prefecture passed an ordinance” in 2005 calling for early establishment of Japanese sovereignty over the islets, a ministry official explained. “In the Diet, (members) have recently been asking more questions” about the islets, such as why they are not included in the education guideline, the official said. “And the revised Fundamental Law of Education says that (students) should love our nation and homeland.”

The official admitted that before settling on the final version, which was announced Monday, the education ministry produced around 100 proposals on the wording regarding Takeshima, while considering how detailed a description would be included.

South Korea was enraged by the latest Japanese move. Will there be any change in Tokyo’s stance?

The education ministry says it has no plans to delete its description of the islets.

“We have judged that we need to teach (students about Takeshima) in junior high schools, and wrote” about the islets, the official said. “The content will not be altered after being told to do so by foreign countries.”

Currently, only one of six textbook publishers mentions Takeshima in a textbook. With the new supplementary document, more publishers may decide to include Takeshima in their textbooks, according to the ministry.