Possible Methods of Resolving Liancourt Rocks Dispute between Japan and ROK

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Letter from Office of Northeast Asian Affairs To E. Allan Lightner American Embassy, Pusan Korea
by Lenor Burmaster

From;NARA Confidential U.S. Lot58 D118 and D637 Records of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs, Japan Subject Files, 1947-1956, Reel39



July 22, 1953. NA - Mr. McClurkin

NA - Mrs. Dunning

Possible Methods of Resolving Liancourt Rocks Dispute between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

During the past six months the question of whether Japan or the Republic of Korea has sovereignty over the Liancourt Rocks has been raised on three separate occasions. According to the Japanese version, in the latest incident on July 12, 1953, a Japanese vessel was patrolling the waters adjacent to the Liancourt Rocks when it was fired upon by Korean shore-based small arms and machine guns. The Japanese Foreign Office verbally protested the incident to the ROK Mission in Tokyo on July 13, demanding the immediate withdrawal of Koreans from the Rocks. On July 14 Foreign Minister Okazaki at a Cabinet meeting stated that the Japanese Government intends to explore every possibility of settling the dispute amicably by direct negotiation with the Republic of Korea. However, Okazaki also stated that it was conceivable that the question might later be submitted to the United States or the United Kingdom for mediation. Some Japanese newspapers have also indicated that as alternatives the question might be submitted either to the Hague Tribunal (International Court of Justice) or to the United Nations; Jiji Shimpo has taken the somewhat extreme view of suggesting that the Japanese Coastal Security Force be despatched to the Rock.

With regard to the question of who has sovereignty over the Liancourt Rock (which are also known in Japanese as Takeshima, and in Korean as Dokdo), it may be of interest to recall that the United States position, contained in a note to the Republic of Korea's Ambassador date August 10, 1951 reads in part:

"....As regards the island of Dokdo, otherwise known as Takeshima or Liancourt Rocks, this normally uninhabited rock formation was according to our information never treated as part of Korea and, since about 1905, has been under the jurisdiction of the Oki Islands Branch Office of Shimane Prefecture of Japan. The island does not appear ever before to have been claimed by Korea......"

(This position has never been formally communicated to the Japanese Government but might well come to light were this dispute ever submitted to mediation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement.)

Since sending the August 10, 1951 note to the ROK Government, the United States Government has sent only one additional communication on the subject. This was done in response to the ROK protest of the alleged bombing of Dokdo Island by a United States military plane. The United States note of December 4, 1952 states:

"The Embassy has taken note of the statement contained in the Ministry's Note that 'Dokdo Island (Liancourt Rocks).....is a part of the territory of the Republic of Korea.' The United States Government's understanding of the territorial status of this island was stated in Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk's note to the Korean Ambassador in Washington dated August 10,1951."

At the same time this note was sent it was hoped that this mEre reiteration of our previously expressed views would withdraw us from the dispute and might discourage the Republic of Korea from "intruding a gratuitous issue in the already difficult JapanESE-Korean negotiations." Apparently our efforts to date have not had the desired effect.

Should the present efforts of the Japanese Government to solve the dispute on an amicable basic by direct negotiation with the Republic of Korea fail, there are several courses of action open to the Japanese Government.

a) Request for United States Mediation — In the event the Japanese Government were to request the United States to act as mediator, not only would the concurrence of the ROK have to be obtained, but the United States would be placed in the embarrassing position (notwithstanding the facts in the case) of seeming to choose between Japan or Korea. As usual, the role of the mediator is not a happy one. In view of this and of United States requirements and obligations to both these countries, it is believed preferable for the United States to extricate itself from the dispute to the greatest extent possible.

b) Submission to the International Court of Justice — Notwithstanding the fact that neither Japan nor the Republic of Korea is a member of the United Nations, both may be parties in a case before the ICJ provided that both agree to comply with the conditions laid down by the Security Council. At present these conditions are that both states would deposit with the Registrar of the International Court of Justice a declaration accepting the Court's jurisdiction in accordance with the UN Charter and the Statute and Rules of the Court, undertaking to a amply in good faith with the Court's decision and accepting the obligations of a Member of the United Nations under Article 94 of the Charter. The difficulty with this plan would seem to be whether Japan could obtain the concurrence of the Republic of Korea to join with Japan in presenting the dispute to the International Court of Justice and if this were done, whether the ROK would abide by decision of the ICJ if it were negative.

c) Submission to the United Nations General Assembly or Security Council — Japan would have the right unilaterally to bring the Liancourt Rocks dispute to the United Nations under Article 35 section 2 of the United Nations Charter, which states:

"A state which is not a Member of the United Nations may bring to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly any dispute, to which it is a party if it accepts in advance, for the purposes of the dispute, the obligations of pacific settlement provided in the present Chapter.",

if it were willing to state, as required by Article 33 of the UN Charter, that the Liancourt Rocks dispute was one "likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security." It is indeterminable at this time whether Japan would be willing to go that far. It is also unlikely that the United States and/or the other Members of the anti-Soviet bloc in the United Nations would want to add this grist to the Soviet propaganda mill.


1. NA/J recommends that the Department of State take no action at this time inasmuch as Foreign Minister Okazaki has has stated that the Japanese Government will try to settle the dispute with the ROK Government by direct negotiation.

2. However, if the Japanese Government requests the United States Government to act as a mediator in this dispute, NA/J recommends that:

a) the United States should refuse;
b) the United States should suggest that the matter might appropriately be referred to the International Court of Justice. The United States could inform the Japanese Government that this procedure might be preferable to submitting it to the United Nations for the reasons stated above.

Probably, but not necessarily
3. If the Japanese Government requests the legal opinion of the United States Government on this question, NA/J recommends that the United States should make available to the Japanese Government the United States position on the Liancourt Rocks as stated in the Rusk note of August 10, 1951.


NA/K concurs.

FE:NA:LBurmaster:eb NA/K - Mr. Treumann

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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