Take Takeshima row to ICJ despite South Korea's refusal
It is crucial for the government to persist in its attempt to resolve the dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima islands at the International Court of Justice.
South Korea recently delivered a letter to Japan officially refusing Tokyo's proposal to jointly refer the two nations' territorial dispute over the islands, which are a part of Shimane Prefecture, to the ICJ.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said he was "extremely disappointed" with Seoul's reply. The Japanese government is now moving toward unilaterally filing a suit with the ICJ, and the Foreign Ministry has begun drafting a petition to that end.
The government previously asked South Korea to take the Takeshima dispute to the ICJ in 1954 and 1962, but gave up on the idea after Seoul rejected both requests. If Japan alone files suit with the ICJ, it will be the first time the territorial row is brought before the U.N. court.
Since Japan's requests were made before it normalized diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1965, we presume Japanese governments at the time gave up on taking the dispute to the ICJ because it hoped to keep friction with South Korea from reaching a critical stage.
However, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak went beyond acceptable limits recently by ignoring Japan's requests and visiting the Takeshima islands, a move aimed mainly at boosting his administration's flagging popularity. This act cannot be overlooked, and we see it as entirely appropriate for Japan to take the matter to the ICJ on its own.
South Korea's far-fetched claims
If South Korea believes its territorial claim to the Takeshima islands is sound, it should agree with Japan's request to bring the dispute to the ICJ and state its views openly before the international tribunal.
South Korea had not yet joined the United Nations when Japan made its two previous requests, but the nation is now a key member of the organization, touting itself as "Global Korea." Such a country should not hesitate to use international means of dispute resolution.
In its written reply to Japan's request, the South Korean government stated that the Takeshima islands are "an integral part of the territory of South Korea, a fact that is unequivocal from historical and geographical standpoints, as well as under international law."
The reply also stated that "no territorial dispute exists" over the islands.
Sources close to the matter said South Korean government representatives told their Japanese counterparts that the islands "first fell victim to Japan when the Korean Peninsula was invaded and pillaged as a result of Japanese imperialism."
"[The islands] returned to South Korea through the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Declaration and Japan's unconditional surrender" in World War II, the South Korean representatives were quoted as saying.
However, Japan's dominion over the Takeshima islands was established by the 17th century when the islands were used for fishing and other purposes. After World War II, the South Korean government asked the United States to grant the islands to South Korea, but the United States refused. South Korea later unilaterally established the Syngman Rhee Line border and illegally occupied the islands.
Show world legitimacy of claim
Even if Japan files suit with the ICJ, a trial will not be held if South Korea continues to refuse to participate. However, the action would have no small impact, as it would be a precious opportunity for Japan to make its case for the legitimacy of its territorial claims before the global community, and history will note South Korea's refusal to allow the matter to be heard by the international court.
It is undeniable that past Japanese administrations, including those when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, avoided focusing too much on the Takeshima issue, worrying it would sour Japan's relationship with South Korea. We think the Japanese government should make a first step toward rectifying its past weakness by taking the suit to the ICJ.
However, South Korea's position as an important neighbor to Japan will not change. The two countries need to continue to cooperate on various issues, such as North Korea and further economic partnership.
It will probably be difficult to improve the Japan-South Korea relationship before Lee's term expires in February, but we urge the government to make proper efforts to maintain a dialogue with South Korea.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2012)