The Dokdo dispute in the 1965 R.O.K.-Japan Nomalization Treaty negotiations

Although Dokdo was one of the points of contention that the negotiators attemped to address, it turned out to be the most intractable.

The three fundamental issues with which Japan and the ROK stubbornly took opposite positions and could not reach agreements during the negotiantions were:
    1) The range of the ROK´s jurisdiction-Japan excluded North Korea from the ROK´s jurisdiction, but the South Koreans insisted Japan admit that the ROK was the only government with jurisdiction over the whole Korean Peninsula;
    2) Japan´s 1910 Annexation of Korea-The Japanese view of Japan´s Annexation Treaty of 1910 was that it was internationally acknowledged and became invalid at the end of the war, but the ROK's view was that it was from the beginning invalid; and
    3) Dokdo island-There was no agreed point in this territorial dispute between the two countries. In fact, the Korean side believed that the issue was outside the scope of the Korea-Japan normalization talks, and that the Japanese Government should refrain from taking up the subject at the negotiations in order to hasten an early normalization of relations.

Shiina and Pak Chung-hee.
Japanese Foreign Minister Etsusaburo Shiina (far left) meeting with ROK President Pak Chung-hee (far right) during the negotiations of the normalization treaty in 1965.
The Treaty did eventually address the first two issues:

On the first issue, compromise was reached with Japan giving up its view that the ROK´s jurisdiction was limited to south of the Demilitarized Zone, and Korea accepted the clause defining its legitimacy as the only legal government on the peninsula according to UN resolution.

The second issue was resolved when the two sides simply agreed that all treaties signed between Japan and Korea in and before 1910 are null and void.   However, the Japanese Foreign Ministry did not give up their view that the Annexation Treaty of 1910 was internationally recognized at the time and was a valid treaty, despite the fact that the treaty had been forced upon Korea and that the sovereign of Korea did not affix his consent to it.   [WEBMASTER´S NOTE: This opinion, as far as we know, is STILL held by the Foreign Ministry and Government of Japan.   This may help explain why the Japanese Government lays claim to Dokdo, since they still believe that their behavior and methods in acquiring territory in Japan´s "Age of Imperialism" were legitimate.]


The dispute over the island was not resolved during the negotiations, and it was eventually left out of the text of the Treaty on Basic Relations that was finally signed on June 22, 1965 between the Foreign Minisers Lee and Shiina.   This was done in order to speed up the normalization of relations, which was important to both countries´ governments for their own respective interests.  In fact, Dokdo emerged as the sole remaining major obstacle to the negotiations just before the treaty was signed.

Despite Korea´s initial insistence that it not even be discussed during the negotiations, the question of Dokdo´s sovereignty was brought up by Japanese officials.

Early in the negotiations, Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira brought the issue up with Korean Central Intelligence Director, Kim Jong Pil:
    Ohira brought up the territorial debate over Takeshima (Tokdo) Island. Thinking that the territorial debate was one which Japan would bring up, Kim replied to Ohira that by making the island a practice field for the Korean Air Force and bombing the island for a few days, the island would vanish permanently from the map.

Later, Foreign Ministers Lee and Shiina discussed Dokdo:
    "Director Lee, what are you going to do with the Takeshima Island issue?" asked Shiina. Lee replied, "I went out to see the island, urged by people's clamor over it. I found the island was just for birds to poop on."

The United States, being heavily involved early on in the negotiations, even tried to intervene to resolve the Dokdo issue just prior to signing. The U.S. worry was that the issue would hinder the establishment of relations between Japan and Korea- this being of major strategic interest to the U.S.   When ROK President Pak Chung-hee met with the U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk in May of 1965, Rusk suggested erecting a jointly operated lighthouse, allowing both sides a share of the island and gradually defusing the issue.   Pak commented that such a project would not work and said:
    Even if the Dokdo issue is a small one in the diplomatic relations negotiations, it´s one that makes one angry...I wish I could bomb the islands out of existence just to solve the problem...

In the end the U.S. and Japan understood that it was quite clear that the Korean position was adamantly against any mention of Dokdo in the treaty between Japan and Korea.   With this stance, the Republic of Korea skillfully avoided any potential loss of control over Dokdo, and it established their claim that the island, is in fact, not a disputed territory.