[Bobby McGill, editor-in-chief of Busan Haps magazine and a friend of the New Pacific Institute, shared his latest article on the ongoing PR campaign between Japan and South Korea over the disputed islets of Takeshima/Dokdo. This article was originally posted at Busan Haps on September 12th, 2012.]

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In the art of diplomacy, words mean everything. Does the use of the word “us” in Tokyo’s first ad campaign laying claim to Dokdo put them in a position where they can’t back down and are gearing up for a PR push in the court of international public opinion?

The South Korea-controlled Liancourt Rocks

The South Korea-controlled Liancourt Rocks (Source: Korean Tourism Organization)

The Japanese government has joined South Korea in the propaganda war and is now running ads in several Japanese newspapers laying claim to the disputed islands between them.

South Korea has long wanted (some have argued unwisely) to make it an international debate and it now looks to be taking shape.

Though the ads are in Japanese and aimed at a domestic audience, I would gander a guess that this might very well be a feeler campaign that could possibly evolve into an international PR push by Japan –much like the video ads Korea has run in Times Square along with several full page Dokdo spreads in major US papers.

Advert run in Japanese newspapers by the Japanese government

Advert run in Japanese newspapers by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

According to the Joongang Daily translation of the ad:

“[T]he advertisements, signed by Japan’s foreign ministry and titled “Now is the time to be informed,” Japan said, “Takeshima is historically and by international law part of Japanese territory,” and, “Japan established territorial rights in the mid-17th century and reconfirmed the rights over Takeshima in 1905 after the cabinet’s approval.”

The advertisement also states:

“Korea says it has been effectively controlling Takeshima even before us, but there is no clear evidence and the references are vague.”

The inclusive use of the word “us” could be viewed as effectively painting Tokyo into a corner where it can’t back down without losing face with its own public. It therefore likely indicates an upcoming push to win favor in the international court of public opinion. We’ll have to wait and see where that goes.

South Korean PR Push in Full Gear

In a related story, Yonhap today offered up a 1909 U.S. Hydrographic Office document from the book, Asiatic Pilot: East Coast Of Siberia, Sakhalin Island and Korea that “saps Japan’s claim.”

It names Dokdo as Hornet Islands or Liancourt Rocks and describes them as “two barren rocky islets, covered with guano, which makes them appear white.”

While that certainly doesn’t jibe with the tagline of Korea’s Times Square video ad (see below) that ends with, “Visit Dokdo: The Beautiful Island,” the Yonhap piece quotes Yoo Gwang-un, a US-based Korean historian saying:

“The document shows that it is not true that Japan has claimed its sovereignty over Dodko since 1905 and that the U.S. did not acknowledged [sic] it at that time.”

The article did not, however, say whether the document gave land rights to Korea, but that it simply didn’t give rights to Japan.

I am not going to drop $25 on the book to find out what the entire document says, but “Korea” is in the title, so there’s that going for them.

This is going to be an interesting spectacle to witness if both South Korea and Japan deploy extensive PR campaigns against each other. Which country has the best claim may end up mattering less than which is better at swaying the international public.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 9 post(s) on Asia Security Watch