So, just how is the local press taking President Lee’s visit to Dokdo?
Well, the Chosun Ilbo digs it. Sort of. They accuse Japan of responding to Korea’s quiet diplomacy by becoming a regional troublemaker over territorial issues—an unfair accusation, IMHO—and by growing even less reflective about its past. It also warned Japan to reflect on where its past adventurism got it. That said, it did express concern over whether President Lee made the kind of strategic considerations befitting a nation with actual control over the territory in question.
The Dong-A Ilbo was even less concerned:
President Lee’s visit to Dokdo is a warning to Japan’s attempts to invade Dokdo and twist history. This presidential visit was made under the recognition that a change in Japan’s attitude could no longer be expected. Japanese media have downplayed the meaning of his surprise visit to Dokdo as a political attempt to recover his popularity toward the end of his term. Yet Japan’s persistent provocations over Dokdo apparently played a greater role in prompting President Lee to visit Dokdo.
Certain experts warn that the president’s visit to Dokdo will bring greater losses than gains by inevitably putting more strain on relations between Korea and Japan. Tokyo filed a complaint with the Korean ambassador to Japan and recalled the country’s ambassador in Korea. Japanese Land and Transport Minister Hata Yuichi emotionally responded to President Lee’s visit to Dokdo and said he would personally pay a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which houses the remains of Class-A war criminals. Yet Korea should not be intimidated by these reactions from Japan.
Japan’s attempt to possess Korean territory instead of expressing sincere repentance over past wrongdoings makes Koreans wonder if Japan intends to build a partnership with Korea. Strained relations between both countries can be normalized only when Japan makes a sincere apology to Korea for past atrocities and retracts its obstinate claim to Dokdo.
Lee may have taken the drastic and risky step to send a strong message to Japan over its recently renewed claim over Dokdo. Despite repeated protests, Japan has claimed ownership of Dokdo, called it Takeshima in Japanese, in school textbooks and a defense white paper. It instead protested to Seoul for stating sovereignty over the rocky volcanic islets in a government white paper on foreign affairs. The government has been reinforcing defense activities to reassert sovereignty in Dokdo while staying relatively tolerant on the diplomatic front. But Seoul decided on a bold diplomatic move in order to send a strong message.
Japan’s shock and exaggerated response to Lee’s visit is partly understandable. But Tokyo should realize how its deluded claim over its neighbor’s territory can damage relations. Korea-Japan relations cannot move beyond the bottleneck unless Japan sincerely apologizes for past atrocities and makes amends.
The Hankyoreh, on the other hand, wasn’t so impressed, expressing (surprising but not surprising, IMHO) concern about the motivations and the impact on Korea—Japan relations. As they conclude:
독도 문제를 비롯한 한-일 간 역사 문제는 매우 중요하지만 하루아침에 해결될 수도 없고 한-일 관계의 전부도 아니다. 이런 점에서 서로 절제와 냉정이 필요하다. 정부는 돌발적이거나 감정적인 행동이 아니라 장기적 관점에서 문제를 풀어가야 한다. 과거사가 해결되지 않으면 어떤 협력도 하지 못한다는 자세가 아니라면 인내와 끈기가 필요하다. 아무리 명분이 옳더라도 정책이 갑자기 왔다갔다하거나, 깜짝 정치쇼를 한다는 인상을 줘서는 문제 해결에 득이 될 게 없다. 일본도 이번 일의 근본 원인이 과거 잘못을 인정하지 않는 그들의 태도에 있고, 과거사 문제 해결 없인 한-일 간 전면 협력이 어렵다는 걸 깨달아야 한다.
The Kyunghyang wasn’t too keen on the visit, either. Japan hadn’t really done anything out of the ordinary that required a response like this, and at any rate, this could lead the international community to believe Dokdo is a disputed territory, which is exactly what Japan wants.
In the Christian Science Monitor, Yonsei prof Moon Chung-in offered some good comments, but I felt myself in almost complete agreement with Temple’s Robert Dujarric:
“This is clearly a Korean island, it has effective control. The Japanese government is very blind to the historical, psychological background to this,” he says. Korea has a small coast guard presence on the islands since 1954, but Lee is the first South Korean president to visit. In 2008 the then prime minister made a visit, which also sparked a diplomatic spat with Japan.
Dujarric adds that the impact of this latest incident will fade away in short time. But if Tokyo continues to cave into to Japan’s minority of far-right politicians, the dispute will continue to escalate.
“This nationalistic crowd has not had much to do since the end of the cold war. The leadership of both the LDP [Liberal Democratic Party] and the DPJ [Democratic Justice Party] have been too incompetent to put their foot down. The last thing Japan needs is worse relations with South Korea,” he says.
To be frank, I don’t think Lee’s visit even represents a break with “quiet diplomacy.” He didn’t declare “diplomatic war” on Japan or send the Korean Armada out to defend Dokdo against four Yakuza ASSHATS ™ in a six-ton boat. He got in his helicopter, went to the islets, looked around ajeossi-style, told the Coast Guard to guard the islets and preserve the environment, and left.
No big talk or heated rhetoric. Just a simple exercise of Korean sovereignty.
If that’s enough to set the Japanese off—which is shouldn’t, since everyone keeps telling me the Japanese don’t care about Dokdo—I don’t know what to tell them other than tough shit.