The Dokdo controversy

The past few days have highlighted the fact that there’s an ongoing spat between South Korea and Japan over some small rocks in the East Sea (the sea between these 2 countries). The spat even spilled onto the just-concluded Olympics, causing controversy in the bronze medal football game between these very 2 countries. The Koreans call them Dokdo and the Japanese Takeshima. These rocks are uninhabited but lie on fishing grounds and over potential oil fields, which is probably the main reason for the dispute. South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak did a bold, or even provocative, act in actually visiting these rocks on Friday, while at the Olympics, a South Korean player held up a flag proclaiming Korea’s ownership. Besides the fact this dispute seems to be significant, one main reason that I’m bringing this up is that at the 2010 World Cup, I saw this after South Korea’s group game against Nigeria. At that time, I had never heard of Dokdo and didn’t know what this was all about. I thought it was some obscure territorial issue, but what’s puzzling is that the guy holding the banner is wearing a blue Japanese football replica shirt, as well as the Anti AIDS message below the Dokdo one, written as if to lessen the controversy of this statement, and the silly “headgear”.

And then, when I went home and looked through my pictures from the game, I saw this wasn’t the first banner that day about Dokdo. The below pics were taken of a Korean performance right before the game within the stadium grounds. The group did some nice dances and played some instruments as well gave a taekwondo demonstration involving volunteers from the crowd. Yet they still used this moment to proclaim their nation’s right to “Dokdo”.

This “Dokdo” dispute also demonstrates something about East Asia. While many people like to see China as a supervillain, countries all over East (and Southeast) Asia have gripes with each other over territory and history. Even in the South China Sea, while China’s claim might be kind of excessive, a multitude of nations, and even Taiwan, are arguing over islands in that area. On the topic of island disputes, Taiwan even has a dispute with Japan over some islets NE of Taiwan which saw a minor incident recently. Meanwhile Thailand and Cambodia actually fought a minor war last year over a disputed piece of land on their border. And coming back to Japan, it’s also got a dispute with Russia over the Kurile islands, which were seized from Japan at the end of World War II. A lot of these Asian nations have a long history, and taking into consideration cultural values and traits, and often wars and disputes linger strongly in people’s minds.


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