[KS] The Tok Island controversy

Brother Anthony ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr
Mon Jul 21 04:52:53 EDT 2008

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Yesterday (Sunday) evening the Korean KBS1 8pm Special was about the Tok-do issue and showed some brief snatches of an interview with Young-Key herself, in dazzling form, I would say. 
The program suggested that one reason for not expecting the International Court of Justice in The Hague to be sympathetic to the Korean claim was the pro-Japanese influence they felt must be exercised among the other 14 judges (3 of whom are Asian: 1 from Jordan, 1 from China, I from Japan) by 
Hisashi Owada, who not only was formerly Japan's vice-minister for foreign affairs, in the course of a dazzling international career (he was also minister in the Japanese embassies in Washington and Moscow), but also has the distinction of being the future emperor's father-in-law. The idea that such an august and highly-respected body would be open to improper influence of such a kind is hardly likely to appeal outside of Korea, to put it mildly, (the court's own home page says 'Members of the Court are independent judges whose first task, before taking up their duties, is to make a solemn declaration in open court that they will exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously'). But I rather like the Korean position: it's not a disputed territory, it belongs to Korea, so there is no need to go to the court. 
Let us not forget that this issue is less about 'nationalism' than it is about fishing rights and sea-bed mineral rights, and also about  pan-Korean unity in the face of what is perceived as ongoing Japanese expansionism. For once Seoul and Pyongyang are speaking the same language.  It is surely also about a sense of frustration at the way the Japanese positions (cf the 'East Sea' issue)  find so easily such a sympathetic audience worldwide, while Korea (as someone has noted) resorts to strident screaming in protest because no one seems to be listening.
So far as I know, the present blow-up was produced by the publication of Japanese school-textbook guidelines, which can only be seen as a form of provocation, and Koreans are wondering 'Why now?' That seems a good question.
Brother Anthony
Sogang University, Seoul

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