“Ulleungdo, Dokdo and Jejudo are excluded from Japanese attached islets.”
These short but powerful words, which come from the Japanese Ordinance of the Prime Minister and Cabinet office No. 24 and the Ordinance of the Ministry of Finance No. 4, gave the Korean people firm assurance in the territorial dispute over the Liancourt rocks, which are known in Korea as Dokdo. Japan and Korea have been at odds over which country owns the rocks since 1952.
The above announcements, which were signed in 1951, were found last year by Yoo Mi-rim (Political Science and Diplomacy, Graduate School), an invited researcher at the Korea Dokdo and Marine Territory Research Center. The center belongs to the Korea Maritime Institute (KMI).
Ulleungdo, another island in the East Sea about 87 kilometers west of Dokdo, and Jeju Island, Korea’s biggest island about 142 kilometers south of the mainland, have long been undisputed Korean territories. However, Japan has consistently challenged Korean ownership of Dokdo.
Yoo’s discoveries are expected to help strengthen Seoul’s claim over the islets in its decades-long territorial row with Tokyo.
At KMI, Yoo is responsible for researching geographical and historical facts about Dokdo. Her work mostly involves digging out historical evidence in both Korea and Japan that helps cement Korea’s territorial claim to the islets.
Yoo neither started her career as a Dokdo specialist nor did she have a keen interest in the issue of Dokdo. She first had a chance to study the islets during her stay in Japan for a doctor’s course at the University of Tokyo.
She couldn’t stand Korean ignorance about Japan so she decided to study Dokdo, which would attract public attention.
“Koreans seem to believe that they know a lot about Japan, but in reality, they don’t,” said Yoo. “And as the politics and culture of Korea and Japan differ a lot, I found out that their approaches to deal with the territorial row on Dokdo differ a lot, too.”
That was her starting point for a three-year academic study of Dokdo in Japan.
Yoo got a chance to use her knowledge at the Korean Dokdo and Marine Territory Research Center earlier than her expectation. It was 2006 when she found out that the institute was planning to establish Korean Dokdo and Marine Territory Research Center, and she applied to work there. Since then, she has conducted research on Dokdo’s historical backgrounds and searched for past evidence that strengthens Seoul’s territorial sovereignty on the islets.
The Ordinance of Prime Minister and Cabinet office No. 24 and the Ordinance of the Ministry of Finance No. 4 were a joint discovery by Yoo and Choi Bong-tae, a specialist in past Japanese affairs. They got to know each other when both were studying at the University of Tokyo.
“One day in 2008, when Choi was in litigation with Japan over revealing details of the Korea-Japan treaty, he raised doubts about the documents that Japan presented,” said Yoo. Yoo and Choi found material evidence that will be used as proofs to rebut Japan’s arguments.
“Japan’s statute confirming the exclusion of Dokdo from Japanese territory means claiming Dokdo as its own territory becomes meaningless,” said Yoo.
Before the discovery of the two ordinances, Yoo also helped clarify the meaning of Usan-guk, a state that occupied Ulleungdo and the adjacent islands during Korea’s Three Kingdoms period.
Yoo expects that newly-found ordinances to be used as documents for publicity.
“I’m going to focus more on promoting our cause to international society so that more people will know about Dokdo and have more interest in it,” said Yoo.