from Asia Program

Little U.S. Can Do on Takeshima if not Invited: Takeshima, Senkakus

Sheila Smith argues that while recent tensions between Japan and South Korea over territorial issues are deeply worrisome for the U.S. government and for regional stability, the reality is that a stronger bilateral relationship can only come about if it is the Japanese and Korean people that lead the effort on reconciliation.

September 13, 2012

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South Korea

Oceans and Seas

TOE: Is there a reason that the tensions over the territorial issues of the Senkakus and Takeshima (called Dokdo by the Koreans) have cropped up at the same time?

Smith: Each dispute has its independent logic. Many in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) say this is happening because Japan’s diplomacy has been weakened by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). In reality, these issues have been around for a long time, including under LDP rule. Back in 2006 [under Junichiro Koizumi, when Shimane Prefecture created a "Takeshima Day" to celebrate its 1905 annexation] Japan and South Korea had a standoff surrounding Takeshima/Dokdo. The South Koreans put their Coast Guard in the water, because the Japanese were going to do a survey mission that the South Koreans did not like. It was quite tense. So it’s not about this particular moment in Japanese politics.

The terms of the 1965 Japan-Korea postwar settlement are less comfortable for many South Koreans than they were in 1965. We will see whether the 1965 agreement becomes an issue in Korea’s December presidential election. That has a lot to do with South Korea’s own democratization process. We’re hearing from new voices who were not active under authoritarian rule. You have the wartime sex slave issue, what the Japanese call "comfort women," and the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute. And then there is the Korean Supreme Court decision a year ago [that required the Korean government do more to get compensation for the wartime sex slaves—ed.]

The Senkakus dispute has to do with China’s rise and its growing sense that it now has the capacity to advocate actively and globally on behalf of its claims on the Senkakus. So, the disputes with China and with Korea have different logics.

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