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Koreans Outraged by Japan’s Claim to Disputed Islands

New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim Posted: Jul 21, 2008

Editor's Note: A controversy over disputed islands in Asia has united the Korean American community in Los Angeles, writes New America Media reporter Kenneth Kim.

LOS ANGELES – The Japanese government’s decision to include in middle school textbooks its claim to a pair of uninhabitable, rocky islands called Dokdo, which are under South Korean control, drew angry reactions from Korean American communities across the United States.

Infuriated by the claim, Korean American Federations sent letters Tuesday to the Japanese Embassy and consulates. Korea Daily, one of the biggest Korean language daily newspapers published in the United States, launched campaigns to mobilize the Korean community and educate Americans about flaws in the Japanese government’s position. Outraged bloggers proposed boycotting Japanese cars and lobbying U.S. Congress to pressure the Japanese government to rescind the decision.

Anger over the decision has also propelled Korean organizations from all sides of the political spectrum to work together. Korean left- and right-wing groups in Los Angeles are now planning to stage a unified protest outside of the Japanese Consulate.

Some used the occasion to revisit an old grievance, demanding that Japan stop using the name “Sea of Japan” for the body of water between the two countries. Korea calls it the East Sea. Although many Western maps call it the Sea of Japan, older maps labeled it the Sea of Corea, Sea of Korea or the East Sea. Numerous international publications use both the East Sea and Sea of Japan.

“It’s absurd for Japan to declare the islands that have been part of Korea for thousands of years as its territory,” said Scarlet Um, president of the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles. “Korean Americans are sending a stern warning to the Japanese government in one voice.”

This unity has been hard to find in a community that is deeply divided by regionalism, ideology, religion, academic backgrounds and many other factors. One organization that promotes a peaceful unification between south and north Koreas recently stopped, due to right-wing pressure, its petition drive demanding the current South Korean regime to boost humanitarian aid to the north.

Korean Americans have been able to come together over the political scandal in part because they have traditionally associated being anti-Japanese with loyalty to the motherland and Korean heritage.

They consider the Dokdo (meaning “Islands in Solitude”), located about 54 miles east of South Korea’s Ullung Island, a sacred place that symbolizes the sovereignty Korea regained in 1945 from Japan. Japan’s claim to the islands is a painful reminder of its 35-year colonial rule of the Korean peninsula and the conscription of hundreds of thousands of Koreans as soldiers, forced laborers and sex slaves.

Japan has consistently claimed ownership of the islands, known to Japanese as Takeshima (meaning “Bamboo Islands”) even after it renounced its claims to the Korean peninsula and territories at the end of the World War II. The country has argued that the islets were acquired in 1905, five years before Japan annexed Korea, through an agreement with the then-Korean monarch, therefore making Japan the rightful owner.

Last Monday, Japan announced its decision to recommend in a government-sanctioned teaching manual that students learn about its claim to the islands, reopening the Koreans’ wounds from their colonial experience.

In protest, the South Korean government recalled its ambassador to Japan. South Korean protesters reportedly burned a portrait of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and a Japanese flag during a rally protesting the announcement by the Japanese government.

The South Korean government insists that following its liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Japan returned the islets as a result of bilateral and multilateral treaties, including the two states’ normalization agreements. After recovering from the destruction of the Korean War, the South Korean government stationed a contingency of heavily armed police in 1955, guarding the islands from Japanese intrusion.

The area surrounding the islands is believed to be rich in fish and may also hold undersea resources.

The United States does not take a position on either South Korea's or Japan's claim to the islands. The U.S. government calls them the Liancourt Rocks, named by a French naval surveyor in the 19th century.

Related Articles:

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The Two Koreas Are Still at War

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Beef Crisis Plagues South Korean Politics

Controversial Japanese Textbooks Damage Relations with China and Korea

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