An Outline of the Japanese Position on Sovereignty over Takeshima and the Illegal Occupation by the Republic of Korea
The fact that Japan has long recognized the existence of Takeshima is made clear by a large number of early documents and maps. In the early 17th century, the Japanese government formally granted its people the right of passage to Utsuryo Island, and they used Takeshima as a navigational port and an anchorage for ships on their way to Utsuryo Island and as a ground on which to hunt and gather marine resources such as sea lions and abalone. Japan had established sovereignty over Takeshima by the mid-17th century.
In the early 1900s, the residents of the Oki Islands of Shimane Prefecture called for a stable environment to conduct their sea lion hunting business, which had become a full-scale industry by then. Against this background, the Cabinet decided to incorporate Takeshima into Shimane Prefecture and reaffirmed its sovereignty over Takeshima. The Cabinet added Takeshima to the State Land Register, established a license system for sea lion hunting, and charged a fee for use of the state land. These exercises of sovereignty were carried out by the Government of Japan peacefully and without protest from other nations. Thus Japan’s sovereignty over Takeshima, which by then had already been established, became clearer to other countries in terms of modern international law as well.
In the process of drafting the San Francisco Peace Treaty (signed on September 8, 1951, effective as of April 28, 1952), which included the ultimate disposition of Japanese territory after World War II, the Republic of Korea requested that the United States add Takeshima to the territories to be renounced by Japan. However, the United States unequivocally rejected this request, noting that Takeshima was “...never treated as part of Korea…” but was Japanese territory. This is proven by diplomatic documents disclosed by the United States government. In this context, the San Francisco Peace Treaty lists “Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet” as territories that Japan must renounce, while intentionally excluding Takeshima. Thus the treaty, which established the international order post-World War II, affirms that Takeshima is Japanese territory. In addition, after the treaty came into force, the United States notified Japan that it would use Takeshima as a bombing range. Based on the agreement with the United States, Japan designated Takeshima as a bombing range, and announced so to the public. Under the international order after World War II, Takeshima was unequivocally recognized as Japanese territory.
However, in January 1952, immediately prior to the coming into force of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the ROK unilaterally established what is known as the “Syngman Rhee Line” and incorporated Takeshima into the ROK side of the line. This action was clearly inconsistent with international law, and the Japanese government promptly and strongly protested against this act, stating that it did not recognize the line. Nevertheless, the ROK later stationed permanent security personnel on the islands, constructing lodgings, a monitoring facility, a lighthouse, and port and docking facilities. The ROK’s occupation of Takeshima by force has no legal basis whatsoever, and Japan has strongly protested against each of these acts, demanding Korea’s withdrawal. Any measures the ROK takes regarding Takeshima based on this type of illegal occupation have neither legal justification nor any legal effect as grounds for its sovereignty claim.*1 *2
Japan has consistently followed the path of a peaceful nation since the end of World War II, and in order to seek a peaceful solution has proposed no less than three times since 1954 that the dispute of territorial sovereignty over Takeshima be referred to the International Court of Justice. However, the ROK has rejected all such proposals. It is extremely regrettable that the ROK, which plays an important role in the international arena, has turned its back on a solution based on international law. Japan will continue to take appropriate measures to resolve this dispute peacefully and calmly in accordance with international law.
*1 In 2012, then-President Lee Myung-bak landed on Takeshima for the first time as the incumbent president. Since then, the government of the ROK and National Assembly members have also landed on Takeshima. Recently, Moon Jae-in, former Chairman of The Minjoo Party of Korea, landed on Takeshima in July 2016. Following each of these instances, the Government of Japan immediately conveyed to the government of the ROK that such an act was unacceptable and extremely regrettable in light of Japan’s position on sovereignty over Takeshima, urged the government of the ROK to ensure similar acts do not recur, and strongly protested against the act.
*2 The series of actions carried out by the ROK lacks any evidential power in international law and has no effect on the determination of sovereignty because Japan has continuously protested against it since the very beginning of the territorial dispute triggered by the illegal unilateral establishment of the “Syngman Rhee Line.”
In addition, the ROK claims that the occupation of Takeshima is an act to restore its sovereignty. In order to justify its claim, the ROK needs to present proof that Korea had effective control over Takeshima prior to Japan's effective control over Takeshima and reaffirmation of its territorial sovereignty in 1905. However, the ROK has never demonstrated any such proof thus far.