Rethinking strategies: The Russian option

By Vladislav Sorokin


To assert itself in Northeast Asia's current turbulent situation and to develop a solid long-term policy regarding Japan's ongoing provocations over Dokdo, Seoul should consider siding with Moscow - and finally support its stance in the Kuril Islands dispute.

In San Francisco in 1951, Japan renounced all rights and claims to the Kuril Islands, but it has since argued that Soviet-occupied Iturup (Etorofu), Kunashir (Kunashiri), Habomai and Shikotan cannot be - and have never been - considered part of a chain.

This claim is nothing but a blatant lie since all kinds of evidence, such as Japan's Foreign Ministry maps of the time, newspaper reports and high-ranked officials' statements, unambiguously prove that at least two of the four islands were definitely included among the abandoned territories.

However, Tokyo insists that the islands are occupied illegally and insists on provocations and aggressive rhetoric, showing a reluctance to accept any compromise, including a Russian proposal to return two of the four islands.

Korea, despite having its own row with Japan, has always preferred to stay neutral, emphasizing differences between Dokdo and the Kuril Islands "in terms of legal, historical and geographical factors," which presumably means that Russian claims to the Kurils are somewhat weaker than Korean claims to Dokdo.

This allegation is rather controversial since Japan itself considers its chances in the Dokdo dispute much higher - for example, Tokyo never threatened to involve the International Court of Justice in the Kuril dispute, yet is pressing that idea in its dispute with Seoul.

But whatever the differences, the essence of recent developments around both disputes is obviously the same and goes far beyond the territorial issues: It is the former colonial empire's desire to revise the results of World War II and gain more power and influence in the region, while siding with the United States against rising China.

This desire is backed up by the military, which is believed to be a major threat to Northeast Asian security - and an issue of Seoul's deepest concern.

And yet this concern cannot even be expressed officially because of the so-called trilateral alliance against North Korea - the situation described by The Korea Times as the nation's potentially dangerous "awkward" diplomatic standing among the three giants.

The U.S.-China confrontation does not make it any less complicated as Seoul depends on Washington for its security and on Beijing for business.

All in all, there seems to be only two nations in the region which both want to stay safe and neutral amid the confrontation - Korea and Russia. Hence improving bilateral relations would be a logical strategy for both.

It is also quite obvious that Korea does not manage to properly cope with Japan's aggressive and provocative public relations campaign related to Dokdo.

While Tokyo keeps provoking, Koreans' emotional and sometimes even hysterical reaction only contributes to the growing publicity of the dispute, which is exactly what Japan needs (it is the only chance for Tokyo to have the case submitted to the ICJ).

So, Korean policy regarding the dispute has every reason to be called lethargic and unreliable, lacking in both long-term strategy and calm, thoughtful and determined actions.

And one such action should definitely be joining Russia in countering Japanese attempts to undermine our countries' sovereignty.

This cannot and does not have to be a military alliance, of course, but mutual recognition of dispute positions, cultural exchange between Dokdo and the Kurils, friendly visits of vessels, etc. would certainly strengthen the diplomatic positions of both countries.

The tense geopolitical situation still provides an opportunity for Korea to escape the destiny of being a shrimp among the whales, and it is high time the government starts making resolute decisions.

Vladislav Sorokin

The writer is an exchange student from Russia currently studying Korean language at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. In Russia, he is majoring in international relations and Korean studies at MGIMO University in Moscow. His email address is [email protected]

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov