Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Michael A. Launius: "A political analysis of Japan's Dokdo claim"

Michael A. Launius
'terra nullius homo'

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.

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)
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.

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.

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At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Charles said...

You're right--that is a solid argument. It does require that Korea establish that it had claim to the islets before this time, but that becomes a lot easier with Japan admitting that they had no claim before 1905. I haven't done too much reading on the Korean side, to be honest, but I'm guessing that they were probably traditionally considered part of Usan-guk (Ulleung-do).

I rarely read the English dailies here (I can usually find your articles here anyway), so thanks for pointing that out.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right, it is solid, and it's the sort of argument that Koreans haven't clearly made, possibly because they're not especially aware of the significant implications behind the terra nullius designation.

At least, I've never heard those implications so clearly spelled out.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:21 PM, Blogger KM said...

It is an excellent argument...I thought I should mention that it's been made (and then some!) at the following site:


This site presents by far the most comprehensive and well-documented arguments I've come across in support of Korea's claim over Dokdo. Not only does it point out the contradictory nature of Japan's arguments (claiming Dokdo as indigenously Japanese at times, and as 'discovered' at others), but also makes an excellent point about the rights of the fishing community at Ulleungdo and how they've developed the region into a modern thriving fishery in the past fift years....

I couldn't recommend this strongly site enough! I can't even begin to summarize the amount of research you'll find there....check it out =)

At 3:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, KM. I was unaware of that site, but it does indeed bring forth the same argument about terra nullius. For instance:

"A Study on Legal Aspects of Japan's Claim to Tokdo."

Four other legal studies are listed on the homepage, so I suspect that the argument concerning Japan's claim of Dokdo as terra nullius has been quite well analyzed . . . by Koreans. I was therefore wrong about that point, but I'd never previously seen this argument presented in the regularly appearing articles about Dokdo on the pages of Korea's English-language newspapers.

Anyway, thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:25 AM, Blogger Jay Kactuz said...

Dr Hodges,

This is a little off topic, but could you consider a post as to why Korean writing is so different from that of China and Japan?

I refer you to..

I know nothing of Oriental languages, but it looks very different, much more squared and simple (elegant?) as compared to those mentioned.


At 5:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, Jay, I don't know much about this issue. Korean writing uses an alphabet, unlike Chinese writing and much of Japanese writing.

Apparently, there's a lot of dispute about the origins of the Korean alphabet, and I know to little about this vexed issue to risk broaching it.

Perhaps Charles La Shure would venture to say something. Charles?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Hyeonjin Lee said...

I'm a college student in Korea.

I'm so shocked to see that you just mentionted that "Koreans writing uses alphabets." That's not true, sir!! ^^ Korean is written in Hangeul, which was invented by King Sejong in 15C. Before then Koreans had used Chinese letters. It is highly reputed for its delicate principle, combining the shape of letters with the shape of human mouth when pronouncing a character. Hangeul is so unique that the origin of Korean alphabet has never been worth being disputed either historically nor internationally. ^_^
For more information: http://english.gg.go.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2003/03/11/200303110037.jsp

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hyeonjin Lee, thanks for visiting. However, you need to be more careful in quoting my words. You 'quote':

"Koreans writing uses alphabets."

Actually, I wrote something a bit more grammatical:

"Korean writing uses an alphabet."

Quoting precisely is a useful habit to learn, so start now.

Anyway, you disputed my statement that "Korean writing uses an alphabet,", for you objected:

"That's not true, sir!!"

But it is true. Hangeul is undisputably an alphabet. You yourself say so:

"Hangeul is so unique that the origin of Korean alphabet has never been worth being disputed either historically nor internationally."

I don't understand what Hangeul's uniqueness has to do with the unworthiness of disputing its origin -- though its origin has been disputed in scholarly discourse, both in Korea and internationally -- but you clearly state that Hangeul is an alphabet.

I'm therefore unsure what your point is.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hodges,

I just surfed onto your blog and want to thank you for your supportive comments about my Dokdo article in the Korea Herald. I have written earlier pieces on the Dokto and Koguryo tombs issues and I agree with the other posters that the web sites they describe are excellent sources of information on the Dokto controversy. Since my article was an Op-Ed piece, the Herald did not want footnotes, so none were provided. There is a lot of good data out there now and it can be readily found.

I hope that you enjoy teaching in Korea. I got my teaching start in Korea as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Gunsan in 1974 and later taught as an exchange professor at HUFS. I visited Ewha last year with a delegation from my current university as we are a sister school.

Good luck with your blog!

Mike Launius

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dr. Launius, the thanks goes all to you. You presented very clearly how we can know for certain that Japan did not claim Dokdo before 1905. All Korea need do is show prior claim, which I imagine shouldn't be too difficult to establish.

I recall my first year in Korea. It was 1995, and one naive young English teacher made the suggestion that Korea could share Dokdo with Japan. The poor fellow was nearly fired at the request of his students . . . until they realized that he simply didn't understand the issue.

But you beat me to Korea by 20 years, and it seems to have been worth your while.

Thanks for visiting, and keep up the excellent, and very clear, scholarly work.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:43 PM, Anonymous Hyeonjin Lee said...

I'm so sorry that I just mistook 'an alphabet' for English alphabet system. Now I looked up the dictionary and I totally understand why you couldn't get me. Yes, you are right, Hangeul IS an alphabet, but the thing is, I'm still sure that its origin is quite undisputable. Hangeul doesn't look like any other alphabets in the world.. and that's why I referred to its uniquness- being unique in its shape. I thought you said it is disputed because some people say Hangeul came from, or branched from some other alphabets. I know you mentioned that you know little about the issue, but I'd like to ask you in what way it is being disputed.

Let me make it clear!
Understanding the exact meaning of 'an alphabet', I have no objection to your statement 'Korean writing uses an alphabet, unlike...', but I'm still curious why the origin of Hangeul is controversial.

About my faulty quoting, thanks for your correction. Actually I noticed my grammatical error right after posting the comment, but I couldn't fix it because I hadn't logged in with any username and password. I just put down my name, which does not allow me to modify anything I post here. Anyway that makes me much more careful writing this comment.. ^^;

Hyeonjin Lee

At 4:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hyeonjin Lee, thanks for the follow-up.

I also couldn't understand your point because you yourself called Hangeul an "alphabet" immediately after insisting that it wasn't an alphabet:

"Hangeul is so unique that the origin of Korean alphabet has never been worth being disputed either historically nor internationally."

I'm not trying to be difficult about this, but I wonder if you were carefully thinking about what you were writing. Were you copying and pasting the sentence that I've quoted without noticing the word "alphabet"? That might explain why you used it. I'm simply baffled about that.

As for the dispute, you need to understand -- first of all -- that scholars dispute nearly everything. That's what scholars do, among other things -- they question received wisdom and analyze discrepancies.

In the case of Hangeul, here's the dispute. The Hunmin jeong-eum haerye states that the consonantal letters were designed the positions of the tongue or shapes of the mouth, depending upon the particular consonants, but it also states that the consonants were adapted them from the "Gǔ Seal Script". These two statements are not easy to reconcile (though I don't assert that reconciliation is impossible), and one important scholar has argued for a link to the Mongolian alphabet.

To find an easy introduction to this issue, see the following Wikipedia site on Gari Keith Ledyard.

I realize that Wikipedia is not a scholarly source, but it is a useful resource for getting into a subject. Please understand that I am taking no position in this dispute, but merely noting that a dispute does exist, which was my original point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps we can better carry on this discussion in a different post: "Query: Origin of Hangul."

Jeffery Hodges

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