What’s the deal with Dokdo?

South Koreans want the world to know about Dokdo, aka Takeshima, aka Liancourt Rocks. Korean soccer player, Park Jong Woo scored the biggest audience so far for the Dokdo debate when Korea beat Japan for the Olympic bronze, but lost his chance to be a part of the medal ceremony. He may not get the medal awarded at all, but he does get out of having to do compulsory military service. Before Park held up his handmade sign on the world stage, Koreans in London were handing out flyers about Dokdo to the international tourists around the city. Korea really wants us to know what’s going on, because so far, no one seems to care, no matter how hard they flash mob for the cause.

Dokdo is found in Korea’s written records as early as 512, during the Shilla Dynasty. The islands show up in Japanese written records in 1693, and are eventually known in the Japanese record as Takeshima. Korea promptly sent an emissary to Japan to let them know back then that the islands were Korean territory, and Japan backed off. In 1849 a French whaling ship charted the island, and in typical European fashion, made up their own name for it, Liancourt Rocks. Japan came back again in 1876, and once more Korea protested. Japan apologized, again, and left it alone until the peninsula and all its territories were under Japanese control during 35 years of occupation. The Japanese were stoked on the prime sea lion hunting location.

After liberation in 1945, Dokdo was Korean territory again. The US used the islands as a bombing range in 1952 and stationed US troops there for a short time. The islands have been more than just a pile of rocks for a very long time. They are home to good fishing grounds, untapped gas deposits, and did I mention the sea lions?

So, now what’s to be done? Takeshima has become a platform for Japanese conservatives to stand their ground against outside agencies telling Japan what to do, and it’s also been a talking point for holding on to dwindling natural resources close to home. Dokdo has long been a focal point of Korean efforts to right the wrongs of a traumatic past. Dokdo was the starting point for the annexation of the Korean peninsula in 1910, and represents much more. No one is actively campaigning for the recognition of “Liancourt Rocks”, but who really cares about “rocks” anyhow? How can all parties move forward?

Japan doesn’t like to apologize for war crimes, and it doesn’t like to concede.  Takeshima gives steady fodder to the conservatives who influence government, education, and foreign policy. Currently airing Korean television dramas about freedom fighters during the occupation are popular and get consistently high ratings.  Dokdo makes regular appearances in Korean media and has become a focal point of national pride. If the closure Koreans need hasn’t been granted (if Han allows for any closure at all) then this, and other issues will be ongoing, straining both sides of the argument for future generations to wrestle with.

We’ll be hearing about Dokdo/Takeshima for a long time, until some agreement can be made about how to create a future with less tension, more understanding, and efforts are made to heal from a difficult past.



  1. DeanS
    25 August 12, 5:02am

    I have nothing to gain from this argument, really this seems like you have an ax to grind. 
    “Korean soccer player, Park Jong Woo scored the biggest audience so far for the Dokdo debate when Korea beat Japan for the Olympic bronze, but lost his chance to be a part of the medal ceremony.”
    One problem his sign was written in Hangul, so it seemed to be aimed at the Hangul reading audience. The sad thing seems to be all the excuses and stuff going on after the incident. Like the sign was just picked up after being thrown on to the field, pictures say different. Why not bite the bullet and have him take responsibility for his actions, which are apparently a violation of IOC and FIFA rules and have him raise his head and say I did it and I’m proud of it. 

    Also perhaps your assertions might carry more weight if you didn’t just use a Dokdo is Koreas propaganda website as a reference. Some how I don’t think they would be too objective, kind of like using Red Sox fan site to explain why the Yankees suck and the Red Sox rule. 

    “Dokdo is found in Korea’s written records as early as 512, during the Shilla Dynasty.”

    From http://dokdo-or-takeshima.blogspot.com/2008/07/q1-has-dokdo-been-part-of-korea-since.html 
    “Koreans claim that Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) has been a part of Korean territory since the time of the Silla Kingdom (512 A.D.), but Korea has no maps or documents to back up the claim. They say, however, that they do have evidence and, as one example, they point to Korea’s Samguk Sagi (三國史記: “History of the Three Kingdoms”), which was written in 1145 A.D.In the Samguk Sagi, a reference was made to an island due east of “Myeongju” (present-day Gangeung) named “Usanguk” (于山國 – 우산국). Koreans claim that Usanguk was referring to both Ulleungdo and Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks); however, though Ulleungdo was mentioned as another name for Usanguk, nothing was mentioned about Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks), by any name. In fact, the text gives the bearing and area for only one island.”

    “In fact, Korea has no old maps of Liancourt Rocks under any name and has no documents showing that Koreans ever went there before Japanese fishing boats starting carrying Korean fishermen there in the early 1900s”

    Do you do any research? Or do you just parrot the Korean Right Wing view/talking points? You also say this “Japan doesn’t like to apologize for war crimes, and it doesn’t like to concede.  Takeshima gives steady fodder to the conservatives who influence government, education, and foreign policy.”. But what about this, I know it from Wikipedia but you could research them.  

    Didn’t the current President Lee Myung-bak make a promise no more demands for apologies? Or was this just because it was before his administration got hit with a major scandal and he had to pull a double Dokdo push and demand for apology from the Emperor Akihito to deflect public attention? 


    Also didn’t President Roh Tae Woo accept an apology from Akihito in 1990? Or is what say is true “No apology from Japan will ever be enough”(especially when a politician needs to distract)

    Has “han” affected your objectivity? Are you just using Giant Robot as your personal soapbox? It makes Giant Robot seem to have a love/HATE thing with Japan. 

    • 25 August 12, 10:14pm

      I think you did gain something from the post – you got a chance to share what you’ve learned about the Dokdo debate, and I appreciate you sharing it here! Not sure that I understand your position any more clearly though, other than that you’re bummed out about how I presented the debate. The Korean right wing has little to do with my stance on Dokdo. My family in Korea, like pretty much all Koreans, directly suffered under the Japanese during occupation. With a grandfather who made an academic career of studying International Law, I’ve definitely got some strong opinions about Japan’s conservatives refusal to acknowledge the bulk of their war crimes. GR is as pan-Asian a place as I have ever encountered, and I’m just one of many voices here with an individual perspective on the issues of world. I’ve got no hate for Japan, just as I’ve got no hate for America but I am still free to criticize its politics. Could Korea be a little more grown-up and less melodramatic about the issue? Absolutely. Could Japan be more open to factoring in historical hurts and past concessions? Definitely. Do I have a solution? No, not really. I’m just a by-stander who gets to blog and share stories about our world that I think are interesting, and should be up for discussion. Thank you, with all sincerity, for joining in on it and sharing more resources on the debate.

  2. David
    26 August 12, 3:53am

    Dokdo is my favorite Korean island.

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