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The politics of the Dokdo issue.

The Dokdo issue has constituted a popular area of academic enquiry in both Korea and Japan, but few studies have extended their research parameters beyond the question of who is the rightful owner of this island. Whatever the legal merits of competing claims to Dokdo, the Dokdo issue has expanded to represent an important political focus in the domestic affairs of both states, and it remains an omnipresent irritant in Korea-Japan relations. A full understanding of this complex issue cannot be gained simply through legal and historical argument. With the aim of overcoming these existing inadequacies in the academic coverage of Dokdo, this article attempts to identify the dynamics in which extralegal and extrahistorical factors have interacted and complicated this contentious issue.

KEYWORDS: Dokdo, changes in domestic environments, activation of nongovernmental actors, politicization of the issue, diplomatic row


Dokdo comprises two islands surrounded by a cluster of some eighty-nine rocks and is situated approximately midway between Korea and Japan in the body of water called the East Sea. Ever since January 28, 1952, when Tokyo lodged a diplomatic protest against Seoul's "Proclamations of Sovereignty over the Adjacent Seas," which declared Dokdo to be within Korea's jurisdictional zone, this island has remained a serious source of contention between the two countries. Yet, despite the long-standing nature of the dispute, it cannot help but strike one as anomalous that the Dokdo issue was suppressed as a substantial political issue for most of the period leading up to the 1990s. During this period, the issue took the form of a largely ritualized tit-for-tat self-assertion of ownership between Seoul and Tokyo.

However, the Dokdo issue started to emerge from its state of dormancy at the start of the 1990s. From the late 1980s, signs had begun to appear that the issue was departing from its traditional pattern of intergovernmental self-assertion to constitute a domestic political issue in its own right. By the second half of the 1990s, this new pattern had solidified, and Dokdo has since become a periodic source of diplomatic tension between Japan and Korea. It is important to note that because the triggers of the periodic escalation of the issue are largely domestic, the changes in the pattern of the issue need to be set against the important changes that have occurred on the domestic front.

I begin the article with a brief overview of the competing historical and legal claims to the island before presenting a more detailed examination of the domestic political factors that have driven the recent activation of the issue. In both Korea and Japan, nationalist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to the issue have emerged; in Korea, these groups came into existence following the transition to democratic rule. In both countries, however, the strength of these nationalist groups is tied to patterns of electoral politics and competition that tended to strengthen the hand of nationalist political forces. To support these claims, I identify a number of cases of escalating conflict between 1996 and 2004 and explore their domestic determinants.

A Historical Overview of the Dokdo Issue

Koreans trace their title to Dokdo back to the sixth century and the records of Sarnguk Sagi, Korea's oldest history text. According to these records, in the year 512, Yi Sa-bu, a government official of Silla (one of three ancient Korean kingdoms), subjugated Usanguk (literally Usan state, which was located on what is now the Korean island of Ulleungdo) on behalf of Silla. (1) The Koreans maintain that Korean sovereignty over Dokdo was thereby established, since Dokdo was a dependency of, or at worst was associated with, the subjugated Ulleungdo. (2) However, it was not until the very late seventeenth century that Korea and Japan had reason to make diplomatic contact regarding the ownership of Ulleungdo (and possibly also, by extension, Dokdo). In the preceding period, tension seemed to have been developing between Korean and Japanese fishermen in the area surrounding the two islands. This tension resulted in what became known as the Ahn Yong-bok case, which prompted the first official exchanges over Dokdo between Korea and Japan. It is the Korean view that the Japanese authorities recognized Korean title to Ulleungdo and Dokdo at the end of the diplomatic exchanges. By contrast, the Japanese side refutes the Korean interpretation of the case. However, whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate, this case deserves attention for the simple fact that it resulted in the very first Dokdo-related contacts between Korea and Japan at the diplomatic level.

With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan abandoned its policy of seclusion (sakoku). This policy shift formed the backdrop for renewed Japanese interest in the status of Ulleungdo and Dokdo. In 1869, only a year after the inauguration of the new Meiji government, the Japanese foreign ministry sent a team of three officials to Korea. Charged with a mission to uncover "the circumstance in which Takeshima (Ulleungdo) and Matsushima (Dokdo) had become territories of Korea," the Japanese survey team subsequently (1870) presented a report--(An inquiry into the diplomacy of Korea)--that confirmed Korean ownership of the two islands. In response to the application of Japanese nationals for the commercial use of Ulleungdo, the Dajokan (council of state), then Japan's highest national decisionmaking organ, reconfirmed that Ulleungdo and Dokdo were not Japanese territory.

On October 25, 1900, the Korean government took a significant step to reaffirm its sovereignty over Ulleungdo and Dokdo. In issuing Imperial Ordinance No. 41, it upgraded the administrative level of Ulleungdo itself and Jukdo (an islet lying off Ulleungdo) and Seokdo (Dokdo). This measure was taken following the delivery of a protest in 1899 to the Japanese minister in Seoul against Japanese infringement of Ulleungdo. (3) While this measure was part of an effort to solidify Korean title to Dokdo, it also reflected the Korean government's concern about the increasing number of Japanese nationals settling on Ulleungdo. A report by J. N. Jordan, the British consul-general in Korea, who visited Ulleungdo on August 29-30, 1899, provides a useful picture of the complicated and tense state of affairs on the island. It was Jordan's ultimate judgment that "[Korean] officials and people alike have only one wish, to get rid of as soon as possible the unwelcome visitors." (4)

Only five years after issuing the Korean Imperial Ordinance, another landmark development would occur regarding Dokdo. On Febmary 22, 1905, Japan's Shimane prefecture issued Prefectural Notice No. 40 incorporating Dokdo into its sphere of jurisdiction. Soon after this event, Japan would make Korea its protectorate by concluding the second Korea-Japan treaty (the Protectorate Treaty), in November 1905. Subsequently, in August 1910, Korea would become a Japanese colony. With one of the parties in this rivalry now subordinated to the other, nothing would be heard of the controversy over the island until Korea restored its formal and effective national sovereignty when it gained independence from Japanese colonial rule in August 1945.

The sovereignty question over Dokdo was revived when the Korean government issued a presidential proclamation of sovereignty over the adjacent seas on January 8, 1952. Since the Peace Line, drawn under the presidential proclamation, placed Dokdo within the Korean side of the line, Tokyo delivered a note verbale refuting Seoul's measure and asserting Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo. In turn, Seoul denounced the Japanese claims as irrelevant and emphasized that Korean title to Dokdo was indisputable from the standpoint of historical fact and international law.

On April 20, 1953, a voluntary Dokdo guard of Korean nationals would become the first permanent inhabitants of Dokdo. For three and a half years, the voluntary Dokdo guard would remain until the Korean police assumed official responsibility for its defense, on December 30, 1956. Ever since, a band of Korean police officers (numbering thirty-seven at last count) have always been deployed on the island. Since Korea took the step of permanently occupying Dokdo, albeit by stationing police officers there, the general pattern of the Dokdo issue has been repetition of Japan's routine diplomatic protests and Korea's counterrefutation. This pattern was maintained until the 1990s, when a new round of diplomatic and domestic developments again brought the Dokdo issue to the fore.

From the mid-1990s, Dokdo has become a frequent and explicit source of contention between Japan and Korea. Particularly worthy of note is that domestic factors have become an important catalyst in the frequent activation of the issue. Typical of this new pattern was the diplomatic minicrisis of February 1996 occasioned by Tokyo's territorial assertiveness in the face of Korea's planned construction of a wharf facility on Dokdo and the subsequent countersurge of Korean public anger. Later that year, in October, there was a diplomatic row provoked by the general election pledge of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to push for Japanese ownership of Dokdo and by the immediate reactivation of Dokdo as a domestic political issue. These bilateral tensions would be resurrected quickly in the early 2000s on several occasions: Japanese prime minister Mori Yoshiro's inadvertent remark championing Japan's sovereignty over Dokdo, in September 2000; Japan's approval in April 2002 of school history textbooks promoting Japan's title to Dokdo; Korea's issuing of a Dokdo stamp in early 2003; and the Japanese right-wing group Nihon Shidokai's announcement of plans to land on Dokdo during May 2004.

The Domestic Basis for the Change in Nature of the Dokdo Issue

Domestic Groups and the Symbolic Significance of Dokdo in Korea

The year 1987 should be recorded as a watershed in the history of modern Korean politics. The Korean public staged a series of nationwide antigovernment demonstrations and finally won the right to choose their president through direct popular election. The democratic transition in Korea would bring about key changes in the state-society relationship, such as the liberalization of electoral politics, the activation of civil society, and the relative weakening of the state. (5) The effect of these sociopolitical changes was reflected in the domestic politics of the Dokdo issue. Within this changed sociopolitical environment, nongovernmental groups emerged as an important actor in the Dokdo issue, challenging the Korean government's former predominance over it. Before the change in the sociopolitical environment, it would have been virtually impossible to name a single organized public movement with either the intention or the propensity to affect government policy toward the Dokdo issue, despite the obvious national passion toward Korean sovereignty over this island. It had been relatively easy for the authoritarian political regime in Seoul to control (actual and potential) nationalist sentiment over Dokdo, primarily so as not to threaten more ostensibly important economic and political relations with Japan.

An example of the leverage of such authoritarian control was a ban on the song "Dokdo Is Our Land," which the Korean authorities initiated in 1983 out of concern that the song might provoke anti-Japanese passions among the Korean public. At the time, Seoul and Tokyo were rapidly mending the fences damaged by the 1982 Japanese school history textbook controversy. In January 1983, Nakasone Yasuhiro became the first Japanese prime minister to pay a visit to Korea. During his visit to Seoul, Nakasone committed himself to $4 billion worth of Japanese loans. Nakasone's historic state visit was soon followed by a twelfth Korea-Japan ministerial meeting, in August, and the eleventh round of general meetings between the Korea-Japan Assembly Members' League, in September of that same year. Within this intense period of fence-mending, the ban on the controversial nationalist song was put into effect in July and remained effective until November.

The democratic transition in 1987 would result in the activation of civil society. From the mid- 1990s, a number of nongovernmental groups and individuals started to join together as important actors in what could be called "the Dokdo movement," whose primary aim is to strengthen Korean claims of territorial title to Dokdo. These groups include the National Headquarters for Defending Dokdo (consisting of sixteen civic groups), the Party for Tokdo Protection, the Korea Dokdo Research and Preservation Association, the Council for Dokdo Residents, and the Headquarters for Making Dokdo an Inhabited Island. In order to disseminate their nationalist message, these groups frequently hold protest rallies, conduct signature-seeking campaigns, and pursue legal strategies to try to force the Korean government to take high-profile steps to safeguard or buttress its title to Dokdo. (6)

Together with these civic groups, political and interest groups are integral parts of the Dokdo movement. In August 2000, twenty-nine Korean lawmakers organized the Dokdo Love Society. In his first address, Yun Han-do, leader of the society and lawmaker of the opposition Grand National Party (GNP) declared the society's aim to press the National Assembly to take steps that would reinforce Korean title to Dokdo. Such steps would include the commissioning of a study on Dokdo's suitability and entitlement to act as a base point for Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) delimitation, the relaxation of restrictions on public access to Dokdo, and a consideration of the impact of the 1999 Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement upon the Korean hold on Dokdo. In April 1999, the same individual tabled legislation on a Special Law for the Development of Dokdo, which includes an overall development plan, a residential plan, subsidies, and efforts to raise funds supporting a study of Dokdo.

Ultimately, the legislation suffered an automatic repeal, since no debates over legislation would be held in the fifteenth National Assembly. However, immediately following the opening of the sixteenth National Assembly, on June 5, 2000, Yun, jointly with twenty-three other lawmakers, resubmitted the legislation. Once again, the legislation would not be considered by the National Assembly. (7) Undoubtedly this legislative failure reflected voices within the government and sections of the ruling party that feared the law might lead to serious friction with Japan. In particular, the Ministry of Environment, jointly with environmentally related NGOs, made clear its opposition to the legislation, based upon its assessment that the law could result in damage to ecosystems surrounding Dokdo. Nevertheless, the legislative bid to strengthen Korea's hold on Dokdo is ongoing. On December 24, 2004, Cheo Kyeong-hwan of the GNP, with another thirty-three lawmakers, again presented a Special Law on Conserving and Exploiting Dokdo. (8)

Opposition parties and politicians have not been slow to take advantage of the success of groups in attacking the government's Dokdo policy. For example, opposition politician Pak Chan-jong embarrassed the government by linking the Dokdo issue with the signing of the 1998 Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement, which placed Dokdo within a provisional fishing zone and could undermine Korean title to Dokdo. His erroneous claim in this regard would mislead civic groups but nevertheless added to the strength of their condemnation of the government. On January 21, 1999, leaders of the opposition GNP staged a rally, entitled "Campaign for Defending Dokdo, Nullifying and Renegotiating the Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement," that drew 500 people, including party members, civic groups, and members of fishermen's organizations. In response, the then-ruling National Congress for New Politics (NCNP) accused the GNP of politicizing the Dokdo issue by linking it expressly with the fisheries issue. (9)

Other Japan-related, but not Dokdo-related, Korean civic groups also play their part in the Dokdo movement. These Korean groups, organized under strong anti-Japanese sentiment, include Taepyeongyang Yuzokhoe (Association for the Pacific war-bereaved families), Jeongsindea Deachaek Wiwonhoe (Korean council for the women drafted for military sexual slavery by Japan), Gwangbokhoe (Korea liberation association), Deahanminguk Dongnip Yugongja Yujokhoe (Korean association for the men of merit for the liberation), and Keukil Undong Simin Yeonhap (Civic coalition for a movement to overcome Japan). All of these groups have actively protested the Japanese territorial claim to Dokdo, as an extended effort or specific aim of their wider anti-Japanese strategy.

However, other more generic civic groups (neither specifically Dokdo-related nor anti-Japanese) have also willingly embraced the Korean Dokdo movement. Groups falling into this category are the YMCA, Heungsadan (the young Korean academy), Gyeongsilryeon (Citizens' coalition for economic justice), and religious groups. For example, on March 19, 1996, members of the Christian Council of Korea (CCK) held a special service on Dokdo. In his sermon entitled "The God with Us," Pastor Choe Hun preached, "All Christians should take the lead in defending Dok-do, our ownership of which is historically obvious." (10)

To these civic groups and many sections of the Korean public, Dokdo is not simply an easternmost island. It is a Korean national symbol and a reminder of Japan's past aggression. This wider role of the Korean Dokdo movement becomes clear from looking at the pattern of activity of the Korean civic groups themselves. They often organize special gatherings or events designed to buttress Korean title to Dokdo on particular dates that commemorate Korean resistance to Japanese colonialism or Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule: March 1 (Samiljeol) and August 15 (Gwangbokjeol, or Independence Day). On March 1, 1919, the Korean public staged a large-scale rally for independence, which quickly spread across the nation before being brutally suppressed by the Japanese. (11) Ever since, March 1 has remained a day that commemorates Korean resistance to Japanese brutality, with August 15 being the day on which Korea was liberated from Japan.

On March 1, 1996 (the seventy-seventh anniversary of the March 1 movement), various groups and organizations held special events both on Dokdo and within the waters surrounding the island. On that day, ninety-three literary men, on board a ship near Dokdo, commemorated the March 1 movement and released a statement calling for greater Japanese repentance for colonial occupation. Meanwhile, members of nine civic groups and residents of nearby Ulleungdo landed on Dokdo and vowed to resolutely uphold the future defense of Dokdo against the Japanese. (12)

On February 29, 2000, the day before the anniversary, some 500 members of the general public, including some 100 members of Hankuk Dokdo Hyangwuhoe (literally, Korea association whose hometown is Dokdo), held an inaugural gathering of the association in Tapgol Park in Seoul and censured Japan's claim to the sovereignty over Dokdo. Tapgol Park is the historic venue where organizers of demonstrations back in 1919 read their declaration of independence and launched the March 1 movement. Throughout the postindependence era, the park has remained a symbolic venue for Korean nationalists to express their anti-Japanese fervor. On the next day (March 1), the same association and forty other associated groups gathered again in Tapgol Park to convene a "March 1 rally for crushing out Japanese rapacity for plundering Dokdo." (13) On August 15, 2002, Korean independence day, around sixty Korean academics, a number of civic groups, and the Dokdo Love Society gathered on Dokdo to commemorate the fifty-seventh anniversary of Korea's independence from Japanese colonial rule. (14)

In a similar but inverted fashion, Korean groups, devoted specifically to the Dokdo issue, provide active participants for wider, nonterritorially specific anti-Japanese campaigns. For example, the Korea Dokdo Society issued a letter of protest labeling Japanese prime minister Koizumi's colonial apology, made during his working visit to Korea of October 2001, as a hollow political maneuver. At the same rally, the society also urged Japan to halt its military buildup and neomilitarist foreign policy. As the Japanese school history textbook issue emerged as the latest diplomatic spat between Korea and Japan, in 2001, certain Korean Dokdo groups were highly vocal on the issue despite the fact that the textbook controversy did not specifically relate to the Dokdo issue.

Today, the civic Dokdo movement represents a substantial challenge to the government's foreign policy makers, who have traditionally considered that a high-key approach to the Dokdo issue would only serve the Japanese strategy of internationalizing the issue. It is also fair to say that the criticisms of the Korean civic groups have been equally targeted at the Korean policymaking elite itself. Often labeling the government's Dokdo policy as a humiliating sellout, these groups have argued for policymaking elites to adopt a much more active stand against Japan vis-a-vis Dokdo and to take a number of concrete steps that would enhance Korea's physical hold upon it.

A new round of tension was ushered in by Tokyo's protest on November 6, 1997, against the Korean construction of a wharf on Dokdo. Korean civic groups accused their government of effectively providing hope for continuing Japanese claims by downplaying the event. At the time, Seoul opted to stage the opening ceremony for the completion of Dokdo wharf facilities on nearby Ulleungdo rather than on Dokdo itself. The highest-ranking Korean official to attend the actual ceremony was the deputy minister for maritime affairs and fisheries. Behind this deliberate low profile lay the Korean foreign minister's proposal that the ceremony be downplayed so as not to provoke the Japanese side. (15) But, eventually, Seoul's cautious approach would only provoke harsh criticism from civic groups on its own side.

Domestic Groups in Japan and Their Emergent Role

While Dokdo carries an unequivocal symbolic importance for Koreans, the prime symbol of Japanese territorial nationalism has been the Northern Territories, under the control of Russia. The most dramatic reference to the symbolic importance of the Northern Territories was probably made by former prime minister Sato Eisaku when he said that "for Japan, the postwar period will not end until the Northern Territories have been returned." (16) Since its initial designation in January 1981, February 7 has been commemorated by the Japanese as Northern Territories Day (after the day in 1855 when Japan and Russia agreed to a boundary placing Etorofu, the northernmost of the four islands, on the Japanese side). (17) No ambitious Japanese politician can ignore the issue, and every year the Japanese government and various civic groups hold rallies condemning the Russian occupation. (18)

Compared to the central position of the Northern Territories in Japanese irredentist nationalism, Dokdo has been of secondary importance and interest. However, this is not to say that the influence of Japanese domestic groups is correspondingly less than that of their Korean counterparts on the Japanese government's conduct of the Dokdo issue. In fact, it would seem that some Japanese domestic groups have had a far greater influence than their Korean counterparts on their respective government's Dokdo policy. Nippon Izokukai (Japan war-bereaved families association) stands at the forefront in this respect and can claim some responsibility for the Japanese government's bold territorial policy. Even though Dokdo was neither a priority nor the main focus of the group's interest, Izokukai's great electoral drawing power and unrivaled nationalist credentials have forced the LDP to adopt a deliberately provocative territorial policy since 1996.

Throughout the postwar period, Nippon Izokukai has constituted one of the most powerful political lobbies in Japan. Izokukai was founded in 1947 to honor the war dead of World War II and to promote the welfare of bereaved families. (19) As of 2005, Izokukai's membership was estimated at 1,040,000 households, with many of them also members of the LDR. (20) With the aim of securing more compensation from the Japanese government for the war wounded and their families, this organization has positioned influential LDP politicians at its helm, such as former LDP deputy president Ono Banboku and the then minister for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), Ryutaro Hashimoto. (21) From February 2004, Koga Makoto, former LDP secretary-general, holds the association's presidential post. Every election season, this group traditionally supports LDP-nominated candidates. Izokukai continues to attach great importance to promoting visits by the Japanese prime minister to the Yasukuni shrine.

Izokukai's electoral power, based on its extensive and highly motivated membership, has long been a force to be reckoned with for Japanese prime ministers and LDP politicians. According to reports, in the run-up to the election for the LDP president in April 2001, Koizumi, then running for the party presidency, made a phone call to the deputy president of Izokukai and promised that he would visit Yasukuni if elected as LDP president. Being elected as LDP president has invariably guaranteed the Japanese premiership itself, (22) except during the short period from August 1993 to December 1995. At its seventieth party conference held on January 16, 2004, the LDP went so far as to make a "visit to the Yasukuni shrine" part of its official party platform. This perhaps demonstrated more clearly than ever before that Izokukai has significant potential to affect the policymaking and political behavior of the LDP and its politicians. As I demonstrate in the following section, the imperative of cementing Izokukai support in the run-up to the upper house elections in October 1996 ultimately created the context in which the LDP leadership sought to display its nationalist credentials by explicitly claiming Japanese title to Dokdo.

The Shimane prefecture has also played a central part in promoting the "Takeshima movement." Since it possesses administrative jurisdiction over Dokdo, the prefecture, as early as April 1977, had founded and played host to Shimaneken Takeshima Mondai Kaiketsu Sokushin Kyogikai (Shimane prefecture council for the promotion of the Takeshima problem). Since its inauguration, the council has focused its organizational energies on bolstering its citizens' interest in the Dokdo issue. For instance, the council has displayed signs carrying phrases such as "Kaere! Takeshima" (Come back home, Takeshima). In March 1987, the prefecture also formed Takeshima Hokpporyodo Henkan Youkyu Undou Shimanekemin Kaigi (Shimane prefectural citizens' conference for demanding the return of Takeshima and the Northern Territories). The conference's place in the Takeshima movement includes the convention of public conferences and the publication of academic works supporting Japanese title to Dokdo. (23) For example, the 2003 conference drew forty-two member organizations, such as town and prefectural councils, as well as the fishery associations of Shimane prefecture and Oki Island. The key events of the conference included the delivery of the Japanese foreign minister's congratulatory address and the prefectural citizens' presentation of their wishes for restoration of Japanese control of Oki Island. (24)

In early 1996, as the Dokdo issue reemerged, the Shimane Prefecture Council had presented a written opinion imploring the Japanese government to establish a 200-nautical mile EEZ encompassing Dokdo. (25) At least since 1954, Shimane prefecture has made continuing attempts to strengthen Japan's claims to Dokdo by taking such measures as granting mining rights and allowing citizens to transfer their residency registration (or family registers) to Dokdo. (26) In 2004, the prefecture laid down another milestone in the history of the Takeshima movement. After passing a resolution calling for the designation of February 22 as Takeshima Day, the Shimane Prefectural Assembly, in October, presented to the Japanese government and Diet a petition calling for the same thing. (27) In the prefecture's move to enhance Dokdo's symbolic importance in Japan's territorial nationalism, Takeshima Ryodoken Kakurizu Kengikai Iingrenmei (Prefectural assembly members' league for solidifying territorial sovereignty over Takeshima), a bipartisan assembly members' group with thirty-seven members, took the lead. In March 2004, the league presented a memorial to honor Takeshima Day, which ultimately resulted in the prefectural assembly's approval of the resolution on Takeshima Day. (28)

On occasion, fight-wing groups have resorted to more extreme tactics. In July 1996, a member of Okoku Kenseito (Imperial constitutional government party) drove at high speed toward the Korean Embassy in Tokyo, slamming his car into its gate, then setting it on fire. All of this was apparently in protest against the continuing Korean occupation of Dokdo. In November 1997, a former member of the same group was arrested on the charge of aiming a petrol bomb at the Korean Consulate General in Osaka. A more recent example of more extreme tactics was Nihon Shidokai's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to actually land on the island in May 2004.

The impact of these small but frequently sensational acts should not be underestimated: the landing of another group (Nihon Seinansha) on the disputed Senkaku islands created a major strain between Japan on the one hand and China and Taiwan on the other that would continue through 1996.

Cases Highlighting the Changed Pattern of the Dokdo Issue

The preceding section identified some of the key civil society actors in Korea and Japan and showed how these groups are linked to the political process. The following cases explore these relationships in more detail, highlighting in particular the electoral connection.

The 1996 Incident: Unprecedented Politicization

The 1996 crisis was initiated by the announcement of Korea's plan to construct a wharf facility on Dokdo and by Japanese foreign minister Ikeda Yukihiko's February 9 statement protesting this Korean move. The 1996 Dokdo incident is worthy of more careful examination because it shows how the issue had developed beyond the long-established pattern of a diplomatic war of words.

On being informed of Korea's wharf construction plans, Tokyo's initial low-key response came in the form of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's comment on February 8 that the Dokdo issue was one that had to be tackled at the working level. Yet this response would be followed within twenty-four hours by a high-profile statement by the foreign minister. Despite the long history of the Dokdo issue, there had been only a handful of occasions on which high-ranking Japanese government officials had initiated or resurrected territorial claims. These cases involved the territorial claims made by Prime Minister Fukuda Takeo in 1977 and by foreign ministers Abe Shintaro and Muto Kabun in 1983 and 1993 respectively. Even when the Korean authorities fired a warning shot over a Japanese fishing vessel approaching Dokdo in August 1983, it was not the foreign minister but the director of the ministry's Information and Culture Bureau that issued a verbal protest.

Intense media coverage and diversionary tactics played some role in inducing Tokyo to take a stronger line. The viewpoint of many Japanese newspaper articles and the television media was that the wharf construction plan was part and parcel of Seoul's attempts to entrench its hold on Dokdo and to check or forestall any move by Japan to declare an EEZ in the East Sea. (29) Some observed that Tokyo's unusually hard line was related more to an effort to divert public attention away from the Hashimoto cabinet's poor economic performance. Yet to attribute the toughening of Tokyo's attitude solely to the media or diversionary incentives is surely misleading.

In fact, Seoul arguably had the greater domestic incentives to overplay the February minicrisis than did its Japanese counterpart. In the face of Tokyo's territorial claim, the Seoul government adopted a series of tough and decisive countermeasures. In his comments of February 11, Yun Yeo-jun, the spokesperson of Cheongwadae, the office of the Korean president, said of the issue: "Recently Japan angered our nation by making a groundless claim that Dokdo is its territory, which is obviously territory of the Republic of Korea in terms of history and international law." The government canceled the President's meeting with a delegation of the Japanese ruling coalition headed by Yamasaki Taku, chair of the LDP's Policy Affairs Research Council, (30) and Korean dailies reported that the government had considered canceling all scheduled diplomatic exchanges with Japan, including the summit meeting scheduled to take place during the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in early March. (31) Notably, President Kim involved himself personally, displaying a firm resolve to defend Korean territory by very publicly making a phone call to the Korean maritime police stationed on Dokdo. These diplomatic and political measures were followed by the Korean defense ministry's announcement on February 12 that joint naval, police, and air exercises would be conducted in the seas around Dokdo within the week. On March 2, President Kim and Prime Minister Hashimoto held a summit on the sidelines of the ASEM, but they only confirmed their wide differences regarding the resurrected territorial issue.

Domestic factors, both political and diplomatic, were behind Seoul's seemingly excessive response. The fact that the Japanese foreign minister's Dokdo claim came only two months before a general election in Korea (scheduled for April 11, 1996) certainly encouraged Korea's Kim Young Sam government to act decisively. Since he assumed the presidency in February 1993, President Kim had enjoyed a record-high public approval rating of close to 90 percent. Yet, high expectations soon turned to disappointment. The revelation during October 1995 of large-scale corruption under former president Roh Tae Woo added crucial downward momentum to the already waning public support for Kim's ruling Democratic Liberal Party (DLP). (32) Shortly after the outbreak of the Roh corruption scandal, Kim's ruling DLP renamed itself the New Korea Party (NKP), in December 1995. The Donga Ilbo opinion poll, conducted on December 26-27, 1995, showed that the once record-high support rate for Kim had fallen to 33.4 percent, a 16.5 percent decline compared to the 50.1 percent recorded on February 23, 1994. The same poll also suggested that the opposition NCNP was leading President Kim's ruling NKP in the race for the upcoming general election of April 1996 by a margin of around 16.6 percent. (33)

The DLP leadership recognized that unless it cleared the government's image of the scandal-stricken former president Rob, its prospects in the forthcoming general and presidential elections would be gloomy. In such a delicate domestic context, the Korean political elite may have appreciated that the way in which it dealt with the revived Dokdo issue might well have a significant impact in the upcoming election, given the escalating anti-Japanese sentiment among the Korean electorate. Weight is given to such an interpretation from remarks made by key politicians. A senior NKP politician, Seo Cheong-won, was heard to utter on February 11 that "Dokdo is [an important] national issue that all members of the nation have to tackle with one accord. We should not see this [Dokdo] issue in light of the election." (34) The NKP president, Kim Yunhwan, was much more candid when he said, on March 2, "This is clearly good material for us since an external trouble unites a nation." On the other hand, Park Ji-won, spokesperson of the lead opposition NCNP, said that "the government and ruling party would suffer people's harsh judgement if [they] repeat the time-honoured habit of exploiting foreign affairs [the Dokdo issue] and the inter-Korea issue for the general election." (35) From experience, Korean politicians were well aware of the fact that, together with the inter-Korea issue, the emotive anti-Japanese card had great potential to affect domestic politics.

This is not to say that Seoul's response resulted entirely from its own domestic predicament. For a full year prior to the reemergence of the Dokdo issue, in February 1996, the political leadership in Korea had been steadily provoked and angered by the actions and words of the Japanese government. On October 5, 1995, the then Japanese prime minister, Murayama, had caused massive controversy with the remark he made before the upper house that the conclusion and implementation of the Japanese annexation of Korea was legally valid within the then-prevailing international context. (36) A month later, Eto Takami, minister for the Management and Coordination Agency, caused another row with Korea by claiming that Japan had also done "some good things" for Korea during the colonial period. Outraged by Eto's remarks, Seoul refused to accept Japan's fence-mending gesture of dispatching its foreign minister, Kono Yohei, to Korea, requesting instead Eto's dismissal. Ultimately, Eto had no option but to resign as part of Tokyo's effort to mollify Seoul. Seoul's hardened sentiment toward Tokyo was clearly reflected in a joint press conference after a summit meeting with Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, on November 14, 1995. During the summit, President Kim was reported as saying that he would teach the Japanese to correct their ill-conceived proposition (beoreujang-meori). (37) Not only did the Japanese provocations enrage Seoul but they also exposed the Korean political leadership to wider public criticism of its lukewarm or indecisive international responses and general diplomatic incompetence. Hence, it can be argued that Seoul's seemingly overcharged response resulted from a combination of territorial, electoral, and diplomatic factors.

While each of these sources of contention may have accounted to varying degrees for the reactivation of the Dokdo issue, it should also be stressed that this was the first time Dokdo had developed overtly into a full-fledged domestic political issue in Korea. Soon after the initial diplomatic clash between Seoul and Tokyo, four major Korean political parties (the ruling NKP, the NCNP, the Democratic Party, and the United Liberal Democrats [ULD]) would join the fray over the Dokdo issue. On February 12-13, 1996, the Democratic Party and the ruling NKP assumed the offensive by charging the ULD and its party leader, Kim Jong Pil, with ultimate responsibility for Japan's challenge of Korean sovereignty over Dokdo. It was their claim that during negotiations in 1962 toward Korea-Japan diplomatic normalization, Kim Jong Pil, then chief Korean negotiator, had proposed that both sides either refer the seemingly insolvable Dokdo question to third-party mediation or bomb the island. (38) The ULD's spokesperson also added that "the government had made a critical diplomatic mistake of officially recognizing the Dokdo issue as the pending bilateral question by making the issue an agenda item at the Bangkok summit meeting." (39)

On March 15, 1996, the ruling NKP then went on to attack the NCNP by pointing out that the NCNP's permanent adviser, Lee Dong Won, was the very same foreign minister who had played a key role in negotiating the normalization treaty. (40) The NCNP countered that Lee had never dealt with the Dokdo issue, since the territorial question had been handled only in separate talks between Kim Jong Pil and the Japanese foreign minister, Ohira Masayoshi. Meanwhile, the Democrats criticized all the other three parties for manipulating the Dokdo issue to serve their political ends. (41)

The strained Japan-Korea relationship of early 1996 began to mend gradually later that year. The 2002 World Cup football finals were confirmed as a joint Korean-Japanese event on June 1, 1996, which obviously helped to check the spiraling tit-for-tat diplomatic row over Dokdo. With the prime aim of coordinating their positions on a variety of pending bilateral and regional issues, such as co-hosting the World Cup and dealing with the continuing security ambiguities over North Korea and the growing need to conclude a new fishery agreement and to delimit their EEZ boundary, President Kim and Prime Minister Hashimoto met again in Jeju, Korea, on June 23, 1996. Although Dokdo was predictably not on the agenda, it was agreed that Seoul and Tokyo would work closely to improve their bilateral relationship and to cooperate more closely in tackling other impending issues.

Yet, the Dokdo issue would scuttle such efforts only months later. The bilateral relationship would suffer a large setback when news broke, on September 28, that Japan's ruling LDP had specifically included the assertion of Japan's claims to territorial sovereignty over Dokdo as an election pledge for general elections to the lower house, which were scheduled for October 20, a month later. The LDP's campaign pledge also asserted Japanese sovereignty claims over the Northern Territories and reaffirmed that the Senkaku was not a subject of dispute between Japan and China. In a swift response, the Korean foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement of protest: "We will never tolerate such a matter as Japan's ruling coalition member LDP's unprecedentedly declaring its claim over the Tokdo Island [Dokdo] as an election pledge." (42)

Against the background of the serious strains in bilateral relationships that had emerged over the same territorial issue earlier in the year, the LDP and its politicians must have realized that its so-called Dokdo election pledge would almost certainly stir up another wave of anti-Japanese frenzy in Korea. There appears to be no other compelling reason for adopting such a diplomatically adventurous position other than the upcoming lower house elections themselves. When faced with tough political prospects, the LDP was inclined to cement their conservative and nationalist credentials by taking up territorial issues and the controversial Yasukuni issue. (43)

In the fall of 1996, the LDP was facing very tough electoral prospects against its conservative rival, Ozawa Ichiro's Shinshinto (New Frontier Party). In May 1993, Ozawa, the then secretary-general of the LDP, had broken away from his party and formed Shinseito (Japan Renewal Party), calling for widespread political reform. In December 1994, Ozawa's Shinseito and several other opposition parties formed Shinshinto, with Ozawa becoming secretary-general and subsequently president in December 1995. The bolting of Ozawa and his followers (Ozawa Group) had provided one important forward factor behind the LDP's first-ever loss of power since the party's formation in 1955. Moreover, Ozawa had been best known for his conservative credentials and his advocacy of a "normal nation" role for Japan, which included not only securing a permanent UN Security Council seat, but also expanding the country's armed forces. (44)

Ryutaro Hashimoto, prime minister and president of the ruling LDP, could also point to his own unequivocal conservative credentials. Hashimoto was once head of the Diet Members' Association for Worshipping at the Yasukuni shrine and had served as president of Izokukai (May 1993-November 1995). He regularly visited the Yasukuni shrine and has a record of antagonizing the Koreans and the Chinese by publicizing his nationalist credentials. On October 24, 1994, when sitting before a lower house special committee in his capacity as a minister of the METI, Hashimoto commented, "Whether Japan actually launched a war of aggression against its neighbours in Asia is a delicate question of definition," and "it is still questionable whether the war Japan launched in those years was a war of aggression." (45)

Hashimoto's unreserved display of his conservative and nationalist propensities would soon pay dividends in electoral terms. In September 1995, the nationalist organization Izokukai would align its membership's vote behind Hashimoto's push for the LDP presidency, historically a guarantee of the Japanese premiership itself. After he assumed office, on July 29, 1996, Hasbimoto paid yet another visit to the Yasukuni shrine, but this time in the official capacity of Japanese prime minister. Like Ozawa, Hashimoto had also actively supported the idea of Japan obtaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. These dynamics underscore that the lower house elections were likely to be a battle between forces of conservatism and that securing the conservative vote was the key to election victory.

Adding to the LDP leadership's urgency for projecting a nationalist and conservative image was the fact that this was the first-ever election to be conducted under the single-member district with proportional presentation system. Unlike the old multimember district with the single nontransferable voting (SNTV) system, under which two to six candidates were to be elected in a single constituency, only one candidate would represent a single district under the new system. Under the old system, it had been easier for the LDP, which could collect organized votes, to win majority votes. However, under the new system, the two conservative parties (the LDP and Shinshinto) would have to compete for the support of their equally conservative electorates.

In sum, the pending lower house election induced the LDP to make a strong appeal to conservative sections of the electorate by using territorial issues to project a strong nationalist image. Dokdo proved an effective platform issue.

Serial Conflicts: 1999 and 2004

Observation of the Dokdo issue between 1999 and 2004 reveals that its regular reactivation has become a consolidated pattern and that the prime responsibility for that pattern falls with the interaction between nongovernmental actors, including civic groups, and opposition political parties.

On November 1, 1999, Korean lawmaker Yun Han-do of the GNP revealed in his parliamentary inspection that Japanese citizens had transferred their residency registration (or family register) to Dokdo, calling for a Korean government response. (46) The revelation of such activities immediately triggered responses by Korean civic groups. On November 9, Hwang Baek-hyun, chair of Keukil Undong Siminyeondae (Civic coalition for overcoming Japan), initiated a movement for shifting Korean family registers to Dokdo. As a measure of the group's success, 946 Korean residents from 259 households had shifted their family registers to Dokdo by the end of 2004. (47) With the likely aim of buttressing the Korean hold on Dokdo, Hwang also founded and became chair of the National Movement for the Inhabitation of Dokdo. The General Association for National Fishermen followed the lead of the reignited civic movement by announcing, on November 29, 1999, that it would inaugurate the Korean Council for Dokdo Residents and initiate a movement aiming to attract a million honorary Dokdo residents. (48) Local government councils also joined in the movement by, for example, denouncing the claims of Shimane prefecture and its family registration efforts.

Since their establishment, the national movement and the council have respectively represented the most active Korean civic groups and have discernibly affected the Korean government's Dokdo policy. For instance, in January 2000, the National Movement for the Inhabitation of Dokdo presented the Ulleung county council with a petition calling for upgrading Dokdo's administrative status and assessing the land value of the island. As a result of the group's efforts, Dokdo was granted separate administrative status, in March 2000, becoming the twenty-fifth ri of Ulleung county. (49) The group also took further steps in its program of pro-Korean Dokdo activities. On May 25, 2000, Hwang presented a constitutional petition against Articles 5 and 6 of Cultural Properties Administration Notice No. 1999-1, which required securing prior permission to access Dokdo. The official reason for applying access limitations had been to protect the island's ecosystem. The petition claimed that the notice was unconstitutional since it violated freedom of residence by placing severe restrictions on people's access to and ability to stay on Dokdo. (50) By July, Hwang and the national movement had also filed applications to Ulleung county for a thirty-year wharf facility lease and the construction of a path leading to the highest point on Dokdo. The Korea Council for Dokdo Residents was also pursuing its own legal avenues to entrench Korean title to Dokdo, including special legislation regarding development.

Before completely subsiding, Korean passions would be newly aroused by another development relating to Dokdo. This time, the source of controversy was an interview on the Korea Broadcasting Service (KBS) with Japanese prime minister Mori Yoshiro on September 19, 2000, in which he confirmed Japanese territorial rights over Dokdo. When asked about Tokyo's stance on Dokdo, the prime minister answered that Takeshima (Dokdo) was a Japanese territory from the standpoint of history and international law. The interview was televised two days later (on September 21, 2000) with his remark about Dokdo edited out. Controversy would not emerge until September 26, when the KBS trade union disclosed the full transcript of the interview, simultaneously accusing its production team of a cover-up. The KBS production team explained that it had deliberately edited out the prime minister's remark so as not to plague the improving bilateral relationship between Korea and Japan ahead of the Korean president's scheduled visit to Japan, adding that the Japanese claim to sovereignty over Dokdo hardly constituted breaking news. (51)

Yet, the revelation of the prime minister's remark and the charges of a KBS cover-up would soon guarantee that Dokdo would again be magnified into a national issue. For the next week, a series of anti-Japanese protest rallies would be held in Korea. On September 27, the Democratic Labor Party (different from the Democratic Liberal Party) staged a protest rally in front of the Japanese Embassy. On the same day, some sixteen civic groups issued a joint letter of protest and staged their own rally, which took place two days later. (52) As in all recent cases where the Dokdo issue had been reactivated, civic groups urged a stronger response from the national government.

This time, the Korean government's response was immediate. On the same day that Prime Minister Mori's remarks were made public, the Korean foreign ministry issued a statement defending Korean title to Dokdo, expressing its regrets over Mori's comments. Yet, the foreign ministry decided not to lodge an official protest since, according to a foreign ministry spokesman, the prime minister's unbroadcast remarks fell well short of meriting even passing notice. (53) Naturally, Korean civic groups labeled the foreign ministry's response as lukewarm and branded their own government as diplomatically incompetent.

Another even more recent controversy confirms the new centrality of domestic groups in the conduct of the Dokdo issue--the Japanese school history textbook affair of 2002. Again, a conservative Japanese lobbying group played the triggering role in the resurrection of the issue. The controversy was sparked in Korea when the news broke in April 2002 that the Japanese education ministry had approved the publication of a high school history textbook that compiled Japanese territorial rights to Dokdo. During the previous year, Japan-Korea relations had already been strained due to the Japanese education ministry's approval of nine junior high school history textbooks. It was the Korean view that these textbooks distorted irrefutable historical facts. Shinhen Nihonshi (New Japanese history), one of these new textbooks, stood at the center of the textbook controversies in 2001. The Korean side viewed many sections of the Shinhen Nihonshi as having deliberately removed or glossed over past colonial atrocities and aggression and as having distorted the record of ancient relations between Japan and Korea. The school history textbook controversy of 2001 ultimately developed to the point where the Korean government went so far as to recall its ambassador from Japan. (54)

After months of strained relations, Japan and Korea managed to mend fences by agreeing in October 2001 to set up a panel for joint history research. Yet, the Japanese school history textbooks episode would soon (April 2002) set in motion another deterioration in bilateral relations. Before being provided with authorization to publish the high school textbooks, Tokyo was known to have rigorously examined the contents of the new editions to guard against Korean displeasure. Seoul itself acknowledged the considerable care taken by Tokyo to balance Korean concerns. This time, however, the direct cause of controversy was Dokdo. The first sign of trouble appeared on the evening of April 8 when the Korean side learned that one of the six approved Japanese history textbooks contained a section upholding Japan's claim of territorial sovereignty over Dokdo. The particular source of controversy was Meiseisha's Saishin Nihonshi (Newest Japanese history). Compiled by the Meiseisha publishing company, the textbook cited the need for Japanese people to recognize Dokdo as Japanese territory. (55) The tension was immediately translated into real friction when the Japanese Ministry of Education approved Saishin Nihonshi, on April 9. The very next day, Tokyo's approval of the school history book dominated the front pages of Korean dailies. Korean civic groups launched into action almost simultaneously. (56) Seoul's response was certainly swift. On the very same evening of Tokyo's approval, the Korean government delivered a protest to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

However, Seoul took no further measures and appeared to have decided early on to employ a low-key stance on the issue. Fairly complex considerations lay behind Seoul's thinking. Korea may have become concerned that any new demand that the Japanese remove or modify the controversial Dokdo account in its new history textbooks would present the dilemma of how to deal with other existing Japanese school textbooks, such as geography textbooks, that already contained sections proclaiming Japanese sovereignty over Dokdo. Any new extended demand might damage relations between Korea and Japan at a delicate point close to their cohosting of the World Cup. It was almost certainly in this context that the government sought to downplay the new source of bilateral friction.

However, by now it was inevitable that in adopting such a low-profile strategy, the government would have to brave criticism from civic groups and sections of the political community. While Korean civic groups were vehemently demanding a decisive stand from government, opposition politicians too wasted no time in trying to embarrass the government. In a hastily convened meeting of the Committee on Unification, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, GNP chair Park Myeonghwan bitterly condemned the Korean government's handling of the textbook issue. (57)

An important lesson from the Japanese high school history textbook controversy is that, like the family register episode before it in 1999, a nongovernmental Japanese lobbying group had been responsible for the reemergence of the Dokdo issue. The Japanese group Nihonkaigi (Japan conference), which had published Saishin Nihonshi, is a nationalist group that aims to see its ideology reflected in Japan's national affairs and international profile. The group's goals include revision of Japan's pacifist constitution; respect for the imperial family; the promotion of official political visits to the Yasukuni shrine; the bolstering of national defense and a more assertive stance in territorial issues and foreign affairs; and the safeguarding of Japan's traditional values. With the former chief justice Tom Miyoshi as its chair, the organization also makes clear that it aims to propose various policy options to the Japanese government in cooperation with the LDR In 1986, the conference's forerunner, Nihon o Mamoru Kokumin no Kaigi (National conference for defending Japan), had already served to invite confrontations with the Koreans and the Chinese by publishing an early version of its Shinhen Nihonshi (New Japanese history), which Japan's neighbors viewed as severely distorting historical facts and as justifying Japan's wartime aggression.

Nihonkaigi appeared to have secured political influence through its sister organization and political arm, the Committee of Japan Conference, composed of about 240 Diet members from both the lower and upper houses. From November 2004, the incumbent chair of this committee has been Hiranuma Takeo, former minister for METI. Among its former chairs is the influential LDP politician Aso Taro, known as a hardcore conservative politician. As chair of the LDP's Policy Affairs Research Council, he had antagonized Koreans by saying that they had willingly changed their names to Japanese ones during the colonial period. His nationalist propensities were displayed six months later over the Dokdo issue. On January 9, 2004, following news of Korea's plan to issue stamps depicting Dokdo, Aso, then posts and communications minister, proposed at a cabinet meeting that Japan should not accept incoming Dokdo stamps. He went on to propose that Japan should counterbalance the Korean act by issuing its "Takeshima stamps." (58) Koizumi turned down Aso's proposal out of concern that it would trigger another diplomatic row with Seoul and reasserted that the Japanese claim to Dokdo was no more than an official necessity. Yet the headlines in the Korean dailies inevitably unleashed another round of public outrage in Korea. (59)

In May 2004, a nongovernmental Japanese group created yet another sensation over the Dokdo issue. Nihon Shidokai announced their plan to land on Dokdo in a statement carried in Shikoku Shimbun on May 2. (60) Informed by the Japanese government on the evening of May 3 of the Japanese group's intentions, Seoul responded by asking Tokyo to intervene. In addition, the Korean government augmented its defense of Dokdo by deploying two helicopters, five patrol ships, five dinghies, and a fifteen-member squad of police commandos. Ultimately, the Japanese government managed to dissuade the group's four-member landing team from implementing their plan. Instead, on May 5, the group circumnavigated close to Japan's Oki Island to protest the continuing Korean occupation of Dokdo.

Neither Tokyo nor Seoul wanted the Japanese group's provocative act to cause yet another strain in Japan-Korea relations. Again, as in previous cases, Nihon Shidokai's act, however small scale, appeared destined to elicit an immediate counterbalancing act from their Korean counterparts. Sure enough, on May 29, five Korean civic groups announced the launching of the "movement for landing on Tsushima" and released details of their plan to land on that Japanese island. Under the plan, the groups would land on Tsushima on August 29 in three fifty-ton ships, hoist the Korean flag, and protest in the streets there. Furthermore, the Korean civic groups made it clear that they would resolutely meet any Japanese attempt to land on Dokdo. (61)

A final example of the civic group dynamic, discussed earlier, began in March 2004. The Japanese Shimane Prefectural Assembly passed a resolution calling for the institution of "Takeshima Day" and filed a petition to this effect before the Japanese government and the Diet six months later, in October. This Japanese act inevitably prompted Korean countermoves at the civic group level. On October 28, the Party for the Protection of Tokdo launched a signature-seeking campaign and petitioned for the enactment of a law instituting "Dokdo Day." This petition was submitted to the National Assembly and accepted on December 10, 2004. By January 10, 2005, some 4,100 individuals, including about 150 online signatories, had lent their signatures, and twenty-four provincial and civic councils had signed up to support Dokdo Day. (62)

On March 18, 2005, the Japanese Shimane Prefecture Assembly again passed an ordinance that created Takeshima Day. Days before its passage, the Japanese ambassador to Korea had made an unscheduled return to Tokyo to communicate the simmering Korean fury at the proposed move. Nonetheless, the Shimane Prefecture Assembly pushed ahead with its Takeshima Day ordinance. Seoul's response took an unprecedentedly high profile. In addition to announcing wider civilian access to Dokdo, the government articulated its "doctrine concerning relations with Japan," which equated the nomination of Takeshima Day with a denial of Korean independence from Japan. With the resurrected Dokdo issue now linked to Koizumi's earlier visit to Yasukuni shrine and the Japanese history textbook issue, Seoul abandoned its previous position of neutrality toward Japan's quest to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Analysis and Conclusion

Stephen Whittemore Boggs once famously commented that a "boundary, like the human skin, may have disease of its own or share the illnesses of the body." (63) Is Dokdo serving as a barometer of Korea-Japan relations? Certainly, before the emergence of this latest episode, considerable optimism prevailed in the conduct of bilateral relations. Korean popular culture (in the form of TV dramas, films, and songs) has recently enjoyed a phenomenal boom in Japan. The number of Korean and Japanese tourists moving both ways across the Korea Straits has also greatly increased in the last decade. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Korea in 2004 was some 2.4 million, up more than 30 percent from the 1.8 million figure for 2003. More Korean tourists are also visiting Japan as part of increasingly diversified tour programs, and 2005 has been designated as Korea-Japan Friendship Year.

Yet, the resurrected Dokdo issue--and the island's increasing importance as a contested national symbol--has cast a chill over the developing Korea-Japan relationship and increased the disconnect or contradiction between the two countries at both the economic and cultural levels.

This article has traced a fundamental change in the Dokdo controversy from one characterized by ritualized intergovernmental self assertion to one in which government control of policy has been taken over on both sides by domestic political forces. Why has this phenomenon occurred?

The symbolism associated with Dokdo is clearly a crucial variable in the domestic political realm. Dokdo serves as a powerful symbol of national identity and honor in Korea. Any Japanese revisionist claim to an island territory, whatever its size and material value, is highly likely to trigger a vehement outpouring of nationalist sentiment. No ambitious politicians in Korea can ignore the symbolic importance of Dokdo in domestic politics.

But the answer to the question must ultimately be found in domestic politics and the way nongovernmental organizations have come to dominate the conduct of the Dokdo issue in both Korea and Japan. The 1996 incident and other smaller but serial reactivations of the Dokdo issue between 1999 and 2004 reflect the newly crystallized features of the issue. The 1996 Dokdo episode suggests that the national leadership and political elites of both Korea and Japan will ultimately capitalize on such emotionally charged national issues as Dokdo to achieve their political and (particularly) electoral goals. Most fundamentally, the series of incidents between 1999 and 2004 suggests strongly that national governments can no longer claim sole jurisdiction over the Dokdo issue and that nongovernmental actors are now an increasingly important factor in determining the course of events. The increased scale of domestic participants and the intensity of their activities is now a consolidated aspect of the Dokdo issue. Not only has the Korean civic Dokdo movement increased in both size and intensity, but its influence over the Korean government's stance and policy toward the Dokdo issue has become tangible. The Korean civic Dokdo groups have proved successful in shaping government attitudes and policy, largely by adopting a range of tactics, such as collaborating with other sections of Korean society and opposition political circles and by taking advantage of administrative and legislative petitions, such as petitioning for the upgrade of administrative units and for the assessment of Dokdo land prices. The investigation of the 1999-2004 Dokdo episodes has presented a clearer picture of the dynamic that has prompted many Korean Dokdo groups to take countermeasures in response to Japanese activities and actions, such as shifts in family registers and the Shimane prefecture's Takeshima Day drive.

Dokdo now represents a set of real, interrelated problems for Korea and Japan, in both their domestic politics and in the bilateral relations between the two countries. At present, the prospects for a medium-term solution to this thorny issue appear slim, and Dokdo is more likely to remain an omnipresent irritant in Korea-Japan relations.

In this regard, more policy and academic efforts have to be devoted to the peaceful management of this seemingly insolvable, semi-permanent bilateral and domestic political hot spot. Essentially, a focus of these efforts should be to decouple the Dokdo issue from the domestic politics of Korea and Japan. In any case, I have sought in this article to underscore how competing claims to sovereignty over a piece of land are not only diplomatic in nature, but are also rooted in domestic politics.


This article should not necessarily be considered as representing or reflecting the official position of the PRECOTH.

(1.) Samguk sagi gwon je 414 yeolijeon je 4 Yi Sa-bu [Yi Sa-bu's history of the three kingdoms, vol. 414, a series of biographies, no. 4]. Byeong-gi Song, Dokdo Yeongyukwon Jaryoseon [A collection of materials on Dokdo] (Chuncheon: Hanrim University Press, 2004), pp. 2-3.

(2.) Ulleungdo is a Korean island located some 87.4 kilometers northwest of Dokdo.

(3.) Byeong-ryeol Kim, Dokdo nva Takeshima nya [Dokdo or Takeshima?] (Seoul: Dada Media, 1997), p. 134.

(4.) According to his account, some 3,000 Korean residents in Ulleungdo coexisted uneasily with some 250 Japanese settlers, a majority of whom had come from the Japanese island of Oki and were there mainly for lumber and fish. "Despatch from J. N. Jordan to the Marquess of Salisbury, 24 July 1899," British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print, part I, vol. 7 (1989-1994), pp. 73-75.

(5.) Su-Hoon Lee, "Transitional Politics of Korea, 1987-1992: Activation of Civil Society," Pacific Affairs 66, no. 3 (Autumn 1993): 351.

(6.) Recently and interestingly, the relentless march of the Internet has caught up with the civic Korean Dokdo movement and has become its chief information medium. For example, the Party for Tokdo Protection, through its website, is seeking 10,000,000 signatures as part of its campaign calling for the government to designate October 23 as "Dokdo Day" ( index.htm).

(7.) For the aim and details of the law, see "A Special Law on the Development of Dok-do," Legislation No. 151915, April 2, 1999; "A Special Law on the Development of Dok-do," Legislation No. 160041, June 28, 2000.

(8.) "A Special Law for Conserving and Exploiting Dok-do," Legislation No. 171196, December 24, 2004.

(9.) "[GNP] stages a fight for nullifying the new Korea-Japan Fisheries Agreement," Hankook ilbo (Seoul), January 21, 1999, p. 4.

(10.) A CCK statement was issued that read, "A series of absurd Japanese remarks on Dok-do are not tolerable. The Church of Korea and 12,000,000 Christians make our position clear to this extent." The statement also called for greater Japanese repentance for the atrocities inflicted on Korean independence fighters and Christians during Japanese occupation. "A hymn sounded on our land Dok-do: The Christian Council of Korea holds on-the-spot special prayer meeting," Kookmin ilbo, March 20, 1996, p. 13.

(11.) According to Korean sources, during the twelve-month period after March 1, 1919, 7,645 Koreans were killed and 45,562 were injured in the antinationalist suppression. Japanese sources reported far fewer casualties: 341 Koreans killed and 1,409 wounded. Henry Chung, The Case of Korea (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1922), p. 346. For the foreigners' account of the Japanese atrocities practiced on Koreans, see Commission on Relations with the Orient of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, The Korean Situation: Authentic Accounts of Recent Events by Eye Witness (New York: Federal Council of the Churches of Christ, 1919), pp. 16-18.

(12.) "Japan, renounce your aggressive nature: Literary men, civic groups gathered to denounce falsification of historical facts," Seoul sinmun, March 2, 1996, p. 23.

(13.) "The hundred who transferred family register to Dokdo holding inaugural meeting," Dong-a ilbo, March 1, 2000, p. 31.

(14.) "Serial assemblies denunciating Japanese militarism," Segye ilbo, August 16, 2002, p. 21.

(15.) "Embarrassing recall of maritime affairs minister from the ceremony for the completion of Dok-do wharf facilities," Moonhwa ilbo, November 7, 1997, p. 2.

(16.) Hiroshi Kimura, Japanese Russian Relations Under Brezhnev and Andropov (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2000), p. 68.

(17.) February 7 was selected to mark the same day Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation, and Delimitation in 1855.

(18.) Bruce Stronach, Beyond the Rising Sun: Nationalism in Contemporary Japan (London: Praeger, 1995), p. 150.

(19.) Nippon izokukai,

(20.) This figure is based on my interview with a staff member of the group in May 2005.

(21.) The MITI has been renamed Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). Hereafter, METI is used to refer to both METI and MITI.

(22.) "Koizumi, a rumour of secret promise,", August 10, 2001.

(23.) Shimane Prefectural Assembly, 397th Ordinary Session, 1st Day (November 26, 2003).

(24.) Kaere shimato umi taikai sengen: Takeshima hopporyodo henkan yokyu undo shimane taikai [Return the island and the sea: Shimane prefecture convention of the campaign for demanding the restoration of Takeshima and the Northern Territories], paper presented at the conference held in Shimane prefecture on November 15, 2003, pp. 7-8, 11-16, 17-22.

(25.) Shimane Prefectural Assembly, 361st Ordinary Session, 1st Day (February 27, 1996).

(26.) Shimane Prefectural Assembly, 369th Ordinary Session, 3rd Day (December 5, 1997).

(27.) Shimane Prefectural Assembly, 398th Ordinary Session, 9th Day (March 15, 2004).

(28.) Members of the Prefectural Assembly also presented Takeshima no ryodoken kakurizu ni kansuru ikensho [A memorial for solidifying territorial right over Takeshima]. See Shimane Prefectural Assembly, 398th Ordinary Session, 8th Day (March 4, 2004).

(29.) "200-nm EEZ revived confrontation over Takeshima," Asahi shimbun, morning edition, February 9, 1996, p. 3.

(30.) "Cancellation of Korea-Japan summit meeting under consideration," Hankook ilbo, February 11, 1996, p. 1.

(31.) "All diplomatic schedules under reconsideration, resolute stance," Kyunghyang shinmun, February 11, 1996, p. 3.

(32.) The ruling DLP had been formed in January 1990 as a result of the merger between former president Roh's ruling Democratic Justice Party (DJP), the then opposition leader Kim Young Sam's Democratic Party, and another opposition leader Kim Jong Pil's Republican Party.

(33.) "Let's lay a cornerstone for the 21st century," Hankook ilbo, January 1, 1996, p. 8.

(34.) "Dok-do sensation, weighing of merits and demerits," Segye ilbo, February 12, 1996, p. 2.

(35.) "South-North relations, the current surrounding 11 April general election viewed from variables and points of contention," Hankyure shinmun, March 2, 1996, p. 5.

(36.) "An absurd remark, Japanese annexation of Korea was legitimate," Segye ilbo, October 11, 1995, p. 1.

(37.) Japan's Murayama cabinet had also incurred President Kim's displeasure when it bypassed Seoul in a tentative rapprochement with North Korea. In June 1995, Tokyo agreed with Pyongyang to provide 300,000 tons of rice, which would alleviate North Korea's food shortage. This was followed in October by a second agreement, to provide another 200,000 tons of rice. Seoul saw Tokyo's overture as having bypassed and essentially ignored its own inter-Korea relations policy. Hong Nack Kim and Jack L. Hammersmith, "Japanese-North Korean Relations in the Post-Kim II-sung Era," Korea and Worm Affairs 24, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 598-599.

(38.) The ULD refuted such criticism as groundless political slander and attributed blame for the present diplomatic row with Japan to a government (and NKP) that had been caught off its guard and had engaged in no other strategy than playing a game of bluff. In fact, no diplomatic record on the normalization talks suggests that Kim Jong Pil proposed that Dokdo should be bombed, although he proposed third-party mediation in response to the insistence of his counterpart, Japanese foreign minister Ohira Masayoshi, on the submission of the issue to the ICJ. "Dokdo becomes an issue of general election," Kyunghyang shinmun, March 16, 1996, p. 2.

(39.) "Touching YS on his sour spot," Hankyore shinmun, March 16, 1996, p. 6.

(40.) "A call on Mr. Kim Jong Pil and Lee Dong Won for explaining Dokdo problem," Dong-a ilbo, March 1, 1996, p. 2.

(41.) Ibid.

(42.) "S. Korea raps LDP's claim over disputed islands," Kyodo News International, October 1, 1996.

(43.) Prior to the lower house elections, Morita Minoru, a veteran political analyst, uttered a comment supporting this view: "The LDP in the past had a strong flavor for moderate policies but because it is weak now, it cannot reject the nationalist or right-wing group proposals within the party." "New electoral system seen as main poll factor," Kyodo News International, October 4, 1996.

(44.) Ichiro Ozawa, Blue Print for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1994), p. 94. Glenn D. Hook and Gavan McCormack, Japan's Contested Constitution: Document and Analysis (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 39.

(45.) "Commentary says Japanese leader's visit to war shrine shows 'hawk' nature," BBC Morning, Asia Pacific-Economic Section, August 1, 1996.

(46.) Bureau for Budgetary Policy, National Assembly, 2000 Nyeondo gukjeong gamsa jaryeojip (IV)-tongil oegyo tongsang wiwonhoe [A collection of materials on parliamentary inspection for the year 2000 (IV), Committee on National Unification, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade], September 2000, p. 157.

(47.) Interview with Hwang Baek-hyeon, January 12, 2004.

(48.) "Fishermen come forth in defending Dok-do," Seoul shinmun, December 29, 1999, p. 22.

(49.) A ri is a subdivision of a gun (county). Before this upgrade of administrative status, Dokdo was categorized as one of Ulleung county's twenty-four ri.

(50.) Bureau for Budgetary Policy, 2000 nyeondo gukjeong, p. 158.

(51.) "Japanese prime minister Mori 'Dokdo is our land,' KBS televised omitted remarks," Dong-a ilbo, September 27, 2000, p. 2.

(52.) "'Why does government remain silent?': Civic groups protest against Japanese prime minister's absurd remark followed," Chosun ilbo, September 28, 2000, p. 30.

(53.) "South Korean ministry brushes off Japanese premier's remark on disputed isle," BBC Morning, Asia Pacific, September 26, 2000.

(54.) Although the ostensible reason for his recall was routine policy coordination, the measure was obviously designed to convey Seoul's displeasure.

(55.) "S. Korea continues to urge Japan to correct history textbooks," Kyoto News International, April 10, 2002.

(56.) "Japan's distorted school history textbook 'Dok-do is Japan's land'--Tokyo approves again," Chosun ilbo, April 10, 2002, p. 1; "Japanese school history textbooks: 'Dok-do is Japan's land'," Kyunghyang shinmun, April 10, 2002, p. 1.

(57.) "Rage over government's response to Japan's history distortion," Kookmin ilbo, April 15, 2002, p. 2.

(58.) Justin McCurry, "Stamps stir dispute over islands," Guardian, January 17, 2004.

(59.) "Koizumi declares Dok-do is Japan's land," Dong-a ilbo, January 10, 2004, p. 1 ; "Koizumi's absurd remarks on Dok-do amounts to another invasion of Korea," Chosun ilbo, January 11, 2004, p. 1.

(60.) "Right-wing group declares their plan to land on Takeshima," Shikoku News, May 2, 2004, 20040502000114.htm.

(61.) "Five civic groups launched a movement for landing on Tsushima,", May 30, 2004.

(62.) Interview with chair of the Party for the Protection of Tok-do, January 12, 2005.

(63.) Stephen B. Jones, Boundary-making: A Handbook for Statesmen, Treaty Editors, and Boundary Commissioners (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1945), preface.

Sung-jae Choi is a senior researcher at the Presidential Commission on True History for Peace in Northeast Asia (PRECOTH), Seoul, Korea. His research interests include territorial sovereignty issues, maritime jurisdiction issues (the law of the sea), and security and foreign relations of northeast Asia.
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Author:Choi, Sung-jae
Publication:Journal of East Asian Studies
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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