Saturday, June 4, 2011

Korean-Japanese Dokdo Island Dispute

One of the troubling issues between Korea and Japan is the on-going dispute concerning ownership of the small islands of Dokdo. An impartial observer would see the islands as only a bunch of rocks. However, these rocks have been a contentious issue between the countries for years. Bishop Chang, the past  ordinary of the  Chunchon Diocese, was interviewed by the  Peace Weekly  for his opinion on how a solution to the conflict may be found.

Bishop Chang, who had studied in Europe and had been instrumental in setting up the Korean-Japanese Bishops Exchange Meeting that goes  back to 1996, compared the conflict to the problems experienced by the French and Germans after the Second World War. He believes that quarrelsome issue can bring some light to the Japanese and Korean conflict.

"We have the tendency of being too emotional," he said, "about the issue of Dokdo. When the problem surfaces, instead of a self-serving  attitude concerning the difference in the positions, we should search for a common understanding from our history." He went on to say that it's necessary to look for consensus the way Germany and France worked to settle their dispute. Even though having a long history of animosity, these two countries, as the leaders for a new Europe, were able to work together to come up with a textbook for use in the schools of both countries that focused on their common history.

Working together in editing a common history was a great achievement. From the end of the Second World War, there had been a continuing search for harmony between the two countries. The textbook was a truly surprising result of these efforts. It was no easy task and there remained many problems to be resolved but there was an improvement in the relationship. Might we we see this as a solution to the problems between Korea and Japan? the bishop asks.

The hostility between between Japan and Korea is not going to help either country as we move into the future. Korea is now in possession of the islands and should, Bishop Chang believes, work confidently toward the time when a consensus on the dispute can be reached, perhaps in the manner of the French and Germans after the War. Even, perhaps, coming up with a common history of the dispute.

During the recent tragedy from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Korea gave material aid to the country. So when the new Japanese middle-school textbook was published, having been approved by the government, citing that the Japanese were in possession of Dokto, there was a great uproar in Korea. The bishop did not think that the mercy shown by Korea should  in any way be tied up with the dispute over the Dokdo Islands. They are, he said, two different matters.

He also does not believe it will be helpful to push our right to the possession of Dokto by going ahead with efforts to put more facilities on the island, which would destroy its natural habitat and scenery.