Resolution of Territorial Disputes in East Asia: The Case of Dokdo
48 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2019
Date Written: January 18, 2019
This Article seeks to contribute to solving the Korea-Japan territorial dispute over Dokdo island (Korea)/Takeshima (Japanese). The Republic of Korea argues that Dokdo has formed a part of Korea since as early as 512 C.E.; as Korea currently exercises control over the island, its claim to discovery would appear to fulfill the legal test for possession of territory. Conversely, the Japanese government claims that Korea never exercised sufficient sovereignty over Dokdo. Japan claims that the island remained terra nullius — in other words, territory not possessed by any nation and so could be claimed — until it annexed Dokdo in 1905. Japan also claims that in the 1951 peace treaty ending World War II, the Allies did not include Dokdo in the list of islands taken from Japan, which implies that Japan retained the island in the postwar settlement. This article makes three contributions. First, it brings forward evidence from the maps held at various archives in the United States and Western Europe to determine the historical opinions of experts and governments about the possession of Dokdo. Second, it clarifies the factors that have guided international tribunals in their resolution of earlier disputes involving islands and maritime territory. Third, it shows how the claim of terra nullius has little legitimate authority when applied to East Asia, an area where empires, kingdoms, and nation-states had long exercised control over territory.
Keywords: law of the sea; territorial disputes; maritime territory; Korea; Japan; Dokdo; Takeshima
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