Michael A. Launius: "A political analysis of Japan's Dokdo claim"
Finally, I've read an article that makes sense on why Dokdo belongs to Korea and not to Japan.
Most articles that I read on this subject talk endlessly about maps from the past, but when I visited the Dokdo Museum, located on the larger East Sea (Sea of Japan) island of Ulleungdo (from where one can supposedly see distant Dokdo), I could not make sense of the changing names and locations on the museum's maps of the what was claimed to be Dokdo. I came away still to be convinced that the maps clearly show that Dokdo belongs to Korea. However, possession is nine-tenths of the law, or so says the proverb, so I was satisfied on other grounds that Dokdo is Korean land.
But Michael A. Launius has supplied a political argument that makes sense of Korea's claim by showing Japan's claim to be untenable. Japan asserts that it had already long claimed possession of Dokdo before 1905, but Launius shows why this claim cannot be taken seriously:
The political aspirations of the rising Japanese Empire made Dokdo an important issue in 1905 when the decision was made to formally annex the islets. The justification given was that Dokdo was terra nullius, meaning land claimed or administered by no other state. The claim was posted in Matsue City, an obscure provincial capital after a bill was introduced the preceding year in the Japanese Diet. Japan usually portrays this incorporation as unrelated to the overall imperial project upon which it had embarked; as if it were a mere coincidence that it was already in the process of extinguishing Korean independence and preparing for war with Russia for regional dominance.This argument makes perfect sense for two reasons. First, it places the annexation of Dokdo within Japan's imperial venture, thereby showing the annexation to be part and parcel of Japanese expansion. Second, and even more tellingly, it shows that the legal argument employed by Japan to annex Dokdo depended upon the island being terra nullius -- "land claimed or administered by no other state" -- which means that Japan clearly acknowledged that prior to 1905, it had held no claim to Dokdo.
It is obvious, though, to any impartial observer that Japan believed Dokdo to be Korean territory because of the manner in which it was seized; as terra nullius (meaning that Japan did not believe it was already theirs) and via publication in a backwater town out of public view. None of that would have been necessary had the Japanese government believed that Dokdo had been theirs historically.
The seizure of Dokdo was obviously part of the larger Japanese goal of colonizing the Korean Peninsula and advancing into China. After all, the immediate use to which Dokdo was put after the incorporation was as a naval communications post for gathering intelligence on Russian naval movements. This is critical evidence of the purpose behind the timing and method of its seizure as related to the Russo-Japanese War and the eventual annexation of Korea. These were all part of a larger act of imperial expansion. (Michael A. Launius, "A political analysis of Japan's Dokdo claim," The Korea Herald, October 13, 2008)
Additionally, the fact that Japan announced its annexation "via publication in a backwater town out of public view" strongly implies that in making the claim, Japan had something to hide, namely, its knowledge that Dokdo belonged to another country, i.e., Korea.
At last, a solid argument to stand on.