What a mess.
Unfortunately, the blame for this diplomatic conflict falls on both sides.
It seems totally inappropriate to me, that a small prefecture in Japan usurp the voice of the nation and unilaterally declare a claim to the islands. In light of the increasing number of social exchanges between Japan and Korea, it seems like a very ill-conceived action. Especially since it commemorates the day that Takeshima was annexed, marking a beginning of Japan’s expansion into Korea.
Let’s look a little behind the scenes, however.
It appears the motive behind this declaration is not a simple matter of nationalism or glorification of history, or all that stuff. The islands have been in dispute for a while, and even in the normalization treaty 40 years ago, the resolution of the island issue was postponed. At some point, Korean authorities moved in (without an official treaty between the two nations regarding the islands) and have administered it ever since. Japan has been sensitive not to bring up the issue as the politician’s of yester-year probably were a little wiser in dealing with such a potentially explosive issue. Imagine the uproar if the Japanese self-defense forces decided to move in to administer the island?
Fast forward to 6 years ago, because of the inability to resolve the issue, the two nations came to an agreement to declare the surrounding sea as ‘provisional waters’. This meant that fishermen from both nations could operate in the area, excluding areas that were 12 nautical miles from the islands. However, fast forward now to today, there appears to be a great concern among fishermen from the Shimane prefecture that they aren’t getting their fair share, that the Korean fishermen maybe over-fishing the area.
So it comes down to an economic dispute. Why they (the Shimane prefecture) decided to stir up tensions about history, only god knows. However, it seems to me that the Korean government could have at least taken a few moments to realize this, and not tie this to all the latent issues and destroy a good portion of the progress that had been made between the two nations. I’m not saying Japan has any right to demand such restrained behavior on the part of Korea, especially after provoking the whole incident, but in hindsight, it could have been handled probably a little bit better.
As for the dispute over the islands itself, Japanese claims to the island extend to several hundred years before any militarist aggression. Clearly, choosing a significant day in terms of WW2 was a significant blunder on the part of the regional Shimane government. The dispute itself, however, seems to be valid, and has been recognized by both sides many times in the past. As a 3rd party observer, one hopes that both sides (including slightly more respectable negotiation tactics on Japan’s part) can try to resolve the issue without needlessly lumping it altogether with the other historical issues.
What a mess.