It does not seem a very wise move that a group of South Korean lawmakers would visit one of the Kuril islands, the subject of a long-standing territorial dispute between Russia and Japan, as part of their campaign to manifest Korea’s sovereignty over Dokdo islands in the East Sea. First of all, there is little similarity between Dokdo and any of the four islands which have been under Russian jurisdiction since the end of World War II.
Reps. Kang Chang-il, Moon Hak-jin and Chang Se-hwan of a National Assembly subcommittee on the protection of rights on Dokdo, intend to visit Kunashiri, the largest of the four islands which Japan call the Northern Territories, to research how Russia has countered Japan’s claims. Reports on their trip caused a stir in the Japanese parliament, where Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke of a “proper counteraction.”
We have no intent to present an opinion on the ongoing dispute but we have to make clear the differences between Dokdo and the Kuril islands in terms of legal, historical and geographical factors, so that no improper analogy is allowed regarding the two international issues. Dokdo, in the sea contiguous to Ulleung Island, was claimed by Japan through a unilateral edict in 1905 in the beginning of the Japanese imperialist encroachment on Korea after the Russo-Japanese War and Korean sovereignty was restored on the island upon the termination of Japanese colonial rule over Korea at the end of World War II.
As for the Kuril islands, there were the treaties of 1855 and 1875 between Japan and Russia and the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty plus a number of official statements by the governments of the two countries concerning the status of the archipelago, some of which cause differences in interpretation. Russia has offered the return of Shikotan and Habomai while Japan claims that Kunashiri and Etorofu too are the proper parts of its territory.
Our lawmakers should have studied more on the differences between Dokdo and the Kuril islands before making their visit plan.