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Korea's right over Dokdo goes far beyond 512 A.D.: historian

In the East Sea, roughly 87 kilometers from Korea's island Ulleungdo and 157 kilometers from Japan's Oki Island, lies a cluster of islands both nations claim as their own.

Dokdo, what Japan calls Takeshima

A new thesis released last week adds more strength to Korea's legal claim over Dokdo, or what Japan calls Takeshima.

Shilla Kingdom (57 B.C. - A.D. 935) in 512

Dr. Sunwoo Young Joon, director-general for the environment ministry's Metropolitan Air Quality Management Office, released his new thesis at a seminar held at Korea University last Friday on April 20. The thesis focuses on the small island state of Usan (guk). With its capital on Ulleungdo, about 45 kilometers from Korea's present-day east coast port Hupo, the kingdom was a marine power that effectively ruled Dokdo before it itself was conquered by the much larger mainland-based Shilla Kingdom (57 B.C. - A.D. 935) in 512.

Shilla's boundaries extended that far

Although Korean scholars have long presumed Dokdo was part of the territory of Usanguk annexed by Shilla, they had no specific evidence supporting that Shilla's boundaries extended that far. Consequently, Japanese scholars backing their government's claim have argued that Shilla was not even aware of the islands, with one scholar, Kawakami Kenzo, going so far as to claim no Korean rulers knew of Dokdo until the early 18th century.

Shilla Kingdom sent their best strategist Isabu to conquer Usan

Dr. Sunwoo started with the facts. The Shilla Kingdom sent their best strategist Isabu to conquer Usan. Land-rich Shilla went to the trouble to defeating the small marine state because Usan pirate ships kept plundering Shilla land out of hunger. Usanguk was burdened by an increasing population and lack of resources.
Given the existing evidence of Shilla consternation with Usanguk raids and the fact that Dokdo can be seen from Ulleungdo on a clear day, Usanguk ships surely headed toward Dokdo to secure more natural resources well before they provoked invasion from the powerful kingdom lying in the other direction. "The 4th century Shilla pottery discovered in Ulleungdo points to the fact that there were at least some kind of exchange between Shilla and Usanguk whether it be looting or a trade. If Usanguk went as far as Shilla for goods, there's no way the Usan people didn't take continuous advantage of Dokdo, which is even closer to them," Sunwoo explained. Given that Dokdo Island can -- even in today's polluted air -- still occasionally be seen from Ulleungdo's heights with the naked eye. The rocky islands must have been a common sight beckoning to Usan's hungry citizens. Although some historians list Usan's population as no more then a few dozens, Sunwoo pointed out that Shilla wouldn't have waged "war" against the state if the number were that few. Sunwoo draws much of his thesis from the pages of the "Samguksagi" ("Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms") the oldest extant history of Korea. it was complied by Kim Busik (1075-1151) and others during the Goryeo Dynasty (935-1392). "Samguksagi" states that Shilla defeated Usan by tricking its people with lions made of wood. After carving many lions out of wood, Shilla soldiers placed them on the bow of their battleships. Usan surrendered at the sight of the animals and pledged to offer local goods every year. Since then, the subsequent Korean states, namely Goryeo, the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1897), the Daehan Empire (1897~1910) and the Republic of Korea (since 1948), have exercised sovereignty over Dokdo. "A territorial conflict takes place whenever one lacks logical reasoning," Sunwoo said. "We must note that international court also takes into consideration, reasoning that makes logical sense for claiming ownership." "The fact that Usanguk became part of Shilla and had long ruled over Dokdo already shows that Korea's ownership of Dokdo goes far beyond the Shilla Dynasty, that it truly was part of Korea throughout the long history of the country."