The Korea Herald


Defense Ministry under fire for labeling Dokdo ‘area of territorial dispute’

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Dec. 28, 2023 - 15:10

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The cover of the controversial military material published by the Defense Ministry (Yonhap) The cover of the controversial military material published by the Defense Ministry (Yonhap)

South Korea’s Defense Ministry came under heavy criticism Thursday for calling the nation’s easternmost sovereign islets of Dokdo as an “area of territorial dispute,” in its latest military education material for soldiers.

President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered the ministry to “immediately correct” the labels in the textbook and said the “mistake should have never happened and should not be repeated.”

Yoon’s orders came mere hours after the ministry announced it will recall the controversial materials, which mistakenly denied Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo. The publishers also forgot to label Dokdo on the graphics of the islets on all 11 of the maps of the Korean Peninsula included in the material.

“We have decided to recall all of the materials that had problems with the issue of the territorial dispute surrounding the Dokdo islets and failed to label Dokdo at all in some parts,” the ministry said in a statement.

In the ministry’s “Moral Strength Education Textbook,” it stated that countries like China, Russia and Japan are engaged in an ongoing “territorial dispute” involving the Dokdo islets, the Kuril and Senkaku Islands, which could “easily lead to a military conflict.” It added that China, Russia and Japan are among the countries engaged in “sharp conflicts surrounding the Korean Peninsula.”

Critics took issue with the fact that the ministry included the Dokdo islets, which are Korea’s sovereign territory, alongside the Kuril and the Diaoyudao Islands. China and Japan have been locking horns over the Diaoyudao Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, while Russia and Japan have been quarreling over their respective claims to the Kuril Islands.

Meanwhile, Korea has always adopted a hardline stance on designating Dokdo as its sovereign territory, citing international law and historical facts. Korea is the only country that has its police force permanently dispatched on the islets.

Dokdo has long been a recurring source of tension between the two neighbors, as Tokyo continues to make its own sovereignty claims in its policy papers, public statements and school textbooks.

Korea's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said that the matter of seeing Dokdo as Korea's sovereign territory remains "undisputed."

"The issues surrounding Dokdo are not subject to any diplomatic negotiation or judicial settlement. Territorial disputes over Dokdo are nonexistent because it is clearly a Korean territory in terms of history, geography and international law," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk said in a briefing.