Monday, April 4, 2011

Do you know Dokdo?

...Dokdo is what has led South Korean donations to Japan Earthquake/Tsunami relief to decline sharply following the annual announcement that Japanese middle school textbooks will (again) lay claim to the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo to the Koreans, Takeshima to the Japanese) a group of rocky islets just slightly closer to Korea than they are the Japan in the East Sea.

I'm not going to pretend for a second that I have enough knowledge to take a truly informed stance on this issue. It's a complicated one, but it is a territorial issue that a country which had been colonized by Japan for decades can be excused for getting a little riled-up about from time to time. I'm not saying I think it's worth setting yourself on fire over (as a South Korean protester once reportedly did), but there is a sensitive history there. Offending and ignorant be those many foreigners who laugh-off the dispute as being "a bunch of people arguing over a pile of rocks. Clearly, there's more to it than that.

That being said, I just wanted to say that I think it's a tragedy that (apparently) a fair number of South Koreans have abandoned their Japan fund-raising efforts as a result of Japan's continued claims to the islands.

Word on the street is that most Japanese citizens couldn't care less about the islands, that it's a political issue only. Rights to the islands of course would also include the abundant sea life and other potential resources in the area, so this becomes an economic issue as well. For the average Korean citizen though, this seems to be a sticking point. Dokdo is an effective symbol of past oppression and freedom and occupying the islets (as Korea currently does... with an octopus fisherman and his wife) has led many (including myself) to attempt day trips off the East coast of the peninsula to pay homage to the place.

As you can see from this recent article however, a significant amount of South Koreans are taking their Dokdo passions a little bit far. In protest of the newly published textbooks (which had gone to press prior to the Earthquake), well... as the article shows us, here an example of what's deemed an "appropriate" response:

"An office worker who was thinking of creating a webpage with his friends to support Japan said he was scrapping the plan altogether.

“I know it seems a bit foolish, but we decided not to make the webpage. Of course, I understand that it’s important to help our neighbors when they are in need, but this is ridiculous,” said Lim Jung-ho, a 25-year-old university student."

"Ridiculous" and "foolish" are good words, Mr. Lim. Is it that much of a challenge to separate your Dokdo-loving selves from the reality that is happening in Japan right now? I suppose it is.

Last night, the rabbit and I saw a shaken and weary Japanese official being interviewed by a Korean reporter. He said that his country was grateful for all of the support South Korea had given so far, and he was hopeful that this long-time and separate dispute would not sour the Korean sentiment toward the needs of his people. But it already has. And people like Mr. Lim feel justified in their stance.

This makes me sad.

In a protest, South Korean army veterans cut off the necks of live pheasants - Japan's national bird - dropping blood on Japanese flags outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on July 17, 2008

A young woman mourns the loss of her family after the March 11th tsunami ripped through her neighborhood in Sendai, Northern Japan.


Tuttle said...

I recently interviewed a group of students applying for a "Global Leadership" program involving traveling abroad, great experience meeting and learning with other nationalities, etc.

One of the candidates could not seem to disguise his acrimony about the Dokdo textbook issue after "all we've done for them", etc. He kept beginning, re Dokdo, with "I will convince them that ..." and then pause, "I want to discuss with them ..."

Mind you, Dokdo, er, Liancourt Rocks, was not even one of the topics. Global leadership Fail.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

I know. Anti-Japanese sentiment still runs strongly here. The Dokdo issue seems to be an excuse to keep things going. I know there are still many people alive and millions only one generation removed from the occupation years, but it seems like for every step forward (co-hosting the 2002 World Cup) there are a few more steps backward. Effing Dokdo, man.