"After forward Choi Sung-kuk scored the South Korean Olympic soccer team's final goal in the 3-0 win over the country's historical rival, Japan, at an international tournament in Qatar [...], he stripped off his jersey to display what he had wrote on his undershirt: "Dokdo is our territory." Choi's goal celebration was just one salvo in the recent flare-up of a diplomatic dispute between South Korea and Japan over the ownership of a cluster of rocky, volcanic islets called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese." (Source: Kim Hyung-jin, Yon Hap News)
Immediately after the game, South Korean medias spotlighted this nationalistic goal ceremony, and Choi gained a huge popularity amongst Koreans. This event reflects that more than a particularly-nationalistic group is taking an interest in this territorial dispute; the whole nation is closely observing what's going on. Now, let's dig into this issue a bit deeper and see why Koreans care so much.
Where is this place anyway?
Firstly, it would make sense for all of you to know where Dokdo is located. Dokdo(called Takeshima in Japan) is located 89.493km south - east to Uleungdo, 267km away from Pohang, 151km away from the truce line, and 160km away from the Japanese island Oki. The latitude of Dokdo is between 131˚52'07"degrees north and its longitude is between 37˚14'12"degrees east. The island can be seen from Uleungdo but not from Oki island in Japan. The shortest distance to Dokdo is 220.354 kilometers from Jukbyeon, Uljin county of North Gyeonsang province, and Dokdo is the far east Korean territory. The address of Dokdo is 1-37 mountains, Dokdo-ri, Uleung-eup, Uleung county, North Gyeongsang province which has been officially reconfirmed since April 7, 2000. (Source of information: http://www.dokdocorea.com/)
History of Conflict (Pre 21st century)
How did this whole dispute begin?
Now, let's review some historical background as it will be pivotal in understanding the origin of this dispute. The annexation of Dokdo was accompanied with the Japanese forceful take-over of the Chosun dynasty, the last Korean dynasty. When Japan started intervening in Korean politics, weaking power of the emperors in early 1900s, Japan's aggression was not just limited on the acquistion of Dokdo, but widely expressed on aqcuistion of monetary rights, railway, mining, and fishing concession in Korea. However, unlike it may seem like, Japan was not interested in taking over Korea; due to the location of Korean peninsula, Japan, in fact, only hoped to use a Korea as path for taking over China.
The settlements of Japanese civilians around Korean islands like Ullungdo began for the first time in the late 1800s. However, those civilians had nothing to deal with Japanese Government's diplomatic intention. Actually, when the Japanese Government received the complains from the Korean Government about the settlement, it worked to remove Japanese civilians who were illegally fishing and logging. The Japanese Dajokan, the Council of State, even ruled in 1877 that "our country has nothing to do with" Ullungdo and Dokdo."
Then, why did Japanese government change its mind all of the sudden? What triggered it for its aggressive foreign policies? Well, the turning point was the Sino-Japanese War(1894-1895) and Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) which Japan have achieved a great victory and gained power and willingness to control the areas outside of Japan. The first target was, as you would predict, the Korean islands in this area of the East Sea/Sea of Japan (Kommundo, Chejudo, Ullungdo and Dokdo) because they were proven valuable to the Japanese military in the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese military soon invaded these sovereign Korean territories in order to construct watchtowers and to link them by submarine telegraph cables. The Japanese ambition to build a vast empire in the East Asia started to reveal itself slowly...
To be continued in the part2