Liancourt Rocks

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Liancourt Rocks
Missing image
Liancourt Rocks

Korean Name
Hangul 독도
Hanja 獨島
Revised Romanization Dokdo
McCune-Reischauer Tokto
Japanese Name
Hepburn Romaji Takeshima
Kanji 竹島
Missing image
Map showing the location of the Liancourt Rocks

The Liancourt Rocks are islets in the Sea of Japan (Korean name: East Sea), claimed by both Korea and Japan but administered by South Korea since 1953.

Korea classifies the rocks as a part of Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang Province, while Japan regards them as within Okinoshima Town, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture.



The Liancourt Rocks are comprised mainly of two islands; the eastern island, known as Dong-do in Korean, Higashi-jima in Japanese, and the western island, known as Seo-do in Korean, Nishi-jima in Japanese, are separated by a distance of 170 meters. They are volcanic islands which were formed in the Pliocene epoch.

Altogether, there are 34 islets. The total area of the Rocks is 180,902 square meters, with its highest point at 174 meters in the western island. It is located at 13152′∼ 13153′ to the East and 3714′00″∼ 3714′45″ to the North. The islands are closer to mainland Korea at a distance of 190 km than to mainland Japan at a distance of 250 km; and the nearest Korean island (Ulleung-do) is 90 km away whereas the nearest Japanese territory, the Oki Islands, is 160 km away.

In fair weather, the islets can be seen from Eastern cost of Ulleung-do [1] (

The rocks are given 37 physical addresses by South Korea, ranging from Mountain 1-37 of Dokdori, to UlleungEup, Ulleungdo. Under Japanese address, the rocks are a part of Okinoshima-cho, Shimane Prefecture.


Although the islets themselves are relatively insignificant, the exclusive economic zone surrounding them has relatively rich fishing grounds and possible reserves of natural gas which make the islands potentially valuable although they are relatively uninhabitable.

Background of dispute

As the last territory jointly claimed by Korea and Japan after World War II whose disposition remains unresolved, the Liancourt Rocks serve as a point of contention for two countries which have been periodically hostile to each other. Although the islets are de facto administered by South Korea by virtue of a small police force stationed on the island, the government of Japan maintains its claim to the islets.


  1. According to Korean scholars, the Liancourt Rocks, known as Dok-do (獨島) in Korea today, were known under such names as "Usan-do" (于山島) and "Sok-to" (石島) in the past.
  2. According to Japanese scholars, the Liancourt Rocks, known as Takeshima (竹島) in Japan today, were known under the name "Matsushima" (松島) in the past.
  1. According to Korean scholars, Ulleung-do was known under such names as "Mulung-do" (武陵島) and "Ul-do" (鬱島) in the past.
  2. According to Japanese scholars, Ulleung-do was known under the name "Takeshima" during when the Liancourt Rocks (today's Takeshima) were called "Matsushima."
  • There is also Juk-do(竹島), another island near Ulleung-do, which does not correspond to Japan's Takeshima although expressed in the same hanja/kanji.

Before 1601

Silla style pots dating back to the 4th century were discovered in Ulleung-do (the main island to the west of the Liancourt Rocks). This indicates that the denizens of Ulleung-do were trading with Silla, and other Korean Kingdoms. As Dokdo is visible from Ulleung-do, it is probable that the residents of Ulleung-do knew of the Liancourt Rocks.

Korean scholars claim that Samguk Sagi (三國史記, 1145) mentions the islets of Ulleung-do and Usan-do, the latter of which according to them corresponds to the Liancourt Rocks and, if so, would be the first known written reference. The islets were a part of the independent island state of Usan-guk, dating back from the Silla Dynasty in 512 AD.

However, Japanese scholars point out that Samguk Sagi only mentions an island state of Usan-guk, which is located on the island in the sea right the east from Myeongju, namely Ulleung-do; not two islets of Ulleung-do and Usan-do: 于山國 在溟州正東海島 或名鬱陵島 地方一百里 恃  不服 伊 異斯夫 爲何瑟羅州軍主 謂于山人 愚悍難以威來 可以計服 乃多造木偶師子 分載戰船  其國海岸  告曰 汝若不服 則放此猛獸踏殺之 國人恐懼則降. The hanja "do" (島) refers to island, whereas "guk" (國) refers to state/nation.

Usan-guk became a protectorate of Goryeo in 930 as Silla fell. The mainland government kept receiving tax from Ulleungdo.

There had been continued lootings of Jurchen and Japanese pirates over the island. In 1416, many islands suffering from continual theft caused Joseon government to establish the "island evacuation policy."(공도 정책) All people living in islands, including Ulleung-do, are ordered to move to mainland Korea for protection.

Jiriji(地理志; Geographical Record) from Sejong Sillok(世宗實錄; Chronicle of King Sejong) written in 1432, mentions Usan-do. On the third line of the fiftieth page, the chronicle says "于山武陵二島 在縣正東海中二島相去不遠 風日淸明 則可望見".

Present Korean scholars interpret the sentence as, "Usan-do (于山) and Mulung-do (武陵, refers to Ulleung-do), located in the sea east of the [Uljin] Prefecture, are not that far each other so that under a clear weather an island comes into view [from another].", and consider it as the evidence that Usan-do exactly refers to Liancourt Rocks. The farthest island next to Liancourt Rocks is Juk-do, located 4 km east from Ulleung-do. It is so close to the main island that it does not have to be clear to view each other. On the other hand, for Ulleung-do and Liancourt Rocks to look at from each other, it has to be a good weather.

Japanese scholars interpret the text as "Usan-do and Mulung-do, located in the sea east of the [Uljin] Prefecture, are not that far each other so that under a clear weather the two islands come into view [from the mainland, i.e. the Korean peninsula]." According to this interpretation, Usan-do does not refer to the Liancourt Rocks but Juk-do. They also point out that this is the interpretation that was officially taken by the Korean government in the Ahn's dispute described below.

Some Korean maps of the period such as 八道總圖 ( (팔도총도, 1530), Usan-do is situated to the west of Ulleung-do, the opposite of the current location of the Liancourt Rocks.


After Seven-Year War(1592-1598) between Joseon and Japan, Joseon government had weakened and hardly had actual control over Ulleung-do and Liancourt Islands. There had been no Korean residents since evacuation policy was promulgated in 1416, and Ulleung-do was sometimes occupied by Japanese fishermen who used the island as a base for pelagic fishery.

Takeshima Tokai Yuraiki Bassho Hikae (竹島渡海由来記抜書控), written by Ōya Kyuemon (大谷九右衛門), records that in 1618 the Tokugawa Shogunate granted the Ōya and Murakawa families of Hōki province (modern Tottori) the permission to take feudal tenure of Ulleung-do, known at the time as "Takeshima" in Japanese. The families were using the sea around the islet for fishing as late as 1696. On the seaway to Ulleung-do were the Liancourt Rocks, known as Matsushima (松島) by Japanese that time, which were used as an intermediate port of call by their fishermen. However, from Korean point of view, the grant of land given by the Tokuwaga Shogunate had no legal basis on which to grant Ulleung-do, since it had been administered by the Korean government.

In 1693, there was a clash between Korea and Japan concerning a Korean, Ahn Yong-bok, over the Liancourt Rocks. It seems that there are two sides of the story, one based on Korean records and the other on Japanese records.

Korean Perspective on the Incident: On April 17th, 1693, a Korean naval officer by the name of Ahn Yong-bok (安龍福) attempted to drive off Japanese fishermen under the hire of the Ōya family from Ulleung Island, which was adminstered by Korea before the Japanese Invasion of 1592. The ensuing argument resulted in Ahn being abducted to Japan. Upon arrival at Japan's Hoki Province (modern-day Tottori Prefecture), he protested vehemently to Hoki's provincial governer, insisting that the Liancourt Rocks and Ulleung Island were part of Korean territory and were not legally the property of Ōya family. The governer yielded to his demands, drawing up a document that verified the status of the two islands as Korean. However, as he was being returned to Japan, Ahn was kidnapped again, this time by the governer of Tsushima Island, who planned to use Ahn and gain control of the Liancort Rocks and Ullueng Island. The Tokuwaga Shogunate, which has been informed of the incident through Hoki Province, immediately intervened, ordering Tsushima's governer to return Ahn to Korea. The governer eventually conceded to the shogun's commands, only stopping to take the verification document Ahn still held. Two years later, in 1697, Ahn sailed to Ulleung Island and the Liancourt Rocks again, this time expel the Japanese who had settled there in his absence and to chase them all the way back to their homeland. Once again in Japan, Ahn had the Tokuwaga shogunate create a new verification document for Korea, sealing the fact that Ulleung Island and the Liancourt Rocks were Korean islands, not Japanese.

Japanese Perspective on the Incident: On April 17th, 1693, two Korean fishermen, Ahn Yong-bok (安龍福) and 朴於屯, were captured by the fishermen of the Ōya family and brought back to Japan. Hoki province reported the incident to the Tokugawa shogunate, and the shogunate through Tsushima-han (対馬藩) told the Korean Joseon Dynasty to tighten the control of Korean "transgressors". Nanakajo Hento-sho (七箇条返答書) alleges that Koreans without permission used the Japanese facilities and stole their fishing equipment; on the other hand, the Annals of Joseon Dynasty(the most accurate Korean record of the period between the 14th to 19th centuries) records that Ahn claimed the incident to the Korean authorities as an attempt to expel Japanese trespassers. In 1694, when the issue of the attribution of Ulleung-do was raised, the Korean Joseon dynasty told the shogunate to back off from Ulleung-do, because Ulleung-do could be seen from the Korean Peninsula as documented in 東國輿地勝覧. With this the Tokugawa shogunate prohibited the vessels of Hoki Province from going to Ulleung-do. Most Korean scholars claim that the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Matsushima) also was included among the prohibited islands; however, there was no mention of the Liancourt Rocks in the actual injunction from the shogunate. Nonetheless, the Japanese continued to travel to the Liancourt Rocks until the spring of 1696, when they were forced out for good, again by Ahn.

The location of the Liancourt Rocks is recorded in several maps published in Japan such as Kaisei Nippon Yochi Rotei Zenzu (改正日本輿地路程全図, Revised Complete Map of Japanese Lands and Roads) published by Sekisui Nagakubo (長久保赤水) in 1779. Korean scholars however reject this map because the Liancourt Rocks are merely included in the map (that is exclusively for navigational purposes) together with Busan and Gyeoungsang Province, both of which belonged and still belong to Korea. If this map were to be brought up as proof of Japan's claim to the Liancourt Rocks, it would also imply that Busan and Gyeoungsang Province, both of which have never belonged to Japan, are also part of Japanese territory.

Korean also researchers argue that Sangoku Tsuran Yochi Rotei Zensu (三国通覧輿地路程全図) by Shihei Hayashi (林子平) published in 1785, marks the Liancourt Rocks as Korean territory, pointing to a small island illustrated next to Ulleung-do. Japanese scholars contend that the island corresponds to Chuksodo, an islet adjoining island of Ulleung-do, rather than the Liancourt Rocks.

Professor Kim Mun-Gi (金文起) of Pusan University of Foreign Studies claims that he found an old Japanese map titled Chosen Hachido-no Zu ( (朝鮮八道之圖, 1758) that writes Ulleung-do and the Liancourt Rocks as one big island within the Korean territory and so that this map evidences that Japan recognized the Liancourt Rocks as Korean territory. Some Japanese sources claim that the map only shows that the island called Ulleung-do is a territory of a state called Usan-guk and does not mention the Liancourt Rocks.[2] (

Park Young-Sik (朴炳植), a Korean scholar, argues that Historical Geography of Great Japan (大日本地名辞書), published by Yoshira Dogo (吉田東伍) on March 31, 1900, records that when the local government of Shimane prefecture had inquired of the Japanese Meiji government whether the Liancourt Rocks would be merged into Shimane county, the Meiji government of Japan issued on March 17, 1877 that Japan had no relation with Takeshima. However, this refers to the islet of Ulleung-do, not the Liancourt Rocks, as noted on the page 434-435 of Historical Geography of Great Japan. However, it should be noted that most history and geographical records of this time considered the Liancourt Rocks to be so small that it was a part of a Ulleungdo.

In 1849, a French expedition first discovered the Liancourt Rocks. Subsequently, the Russians named the rocks Manalai and Olivutsa Rocks in 1854, but the English named it Hornet Rocks in 1855.

According to Korean scholars, Dae Dong Yeo Ji Do (大東輿地圖, 대동여지도), a map of Korea created by Jeongho Kim (金正浩, 김정호) in 1861, includes the Liancourt Rocks.[3] ( map is incomplete)

It should be noted that, as a result of the confusion between the names "Matsushima" and "Takeshima" on the part of Japan, there is much historical controversy when Japanese documents refer to the Liancourt Rocks. Most Japanese documents and maps after 1905 use the name "Takeshima" or outrightedly place the islands in Korean territory under the title "Dokdo", while pre-1905 documents tend to use either "Takeshima", "Matsushima", or entirely exclude the islets.

1900 to 1950

On October 25, 1900, the Korean Empire issued Korean Government Imperial Ordinance No. 41 ( (大韓帝國勅令第41号), renaming Ulleung-do (鬱陵島) as Ul-do (鬱島) and incorporating the islands of Ulleung-do, Chuk-do (竹島) and Sok-do (石島) as part of Ulleung county. A webpage [4] ( claims that the 石 of Sok-do is a variant form of 獨 in the Cholla dialect, and that this thus refers to the Liancourt Rocks. This is supported by the fact that modern day Dokdo is labelled as Seokdo in old maps. This was done so, since many of the Korean denizens of the island were from the Jeolla province, after it was resettled. The naming of islands with Chinese characters that sound similar to a Korean word, along with transliterations from Korean to Chinese, is a common practise in Korea.

After a request by a Japanese fisherman, on February 22, 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War the Liancourt Rocks under the name Takeshima were proclaimed a part of Shimane prefecture in Japan under the doctrine of terra nullius. The Koreans were not aware of the annexation until March 23, 1906, a whole one year after the event. Although the incident was reported and criticsed by Korean newspapers, no official complaints were sent to the Japanese government. Koreans claim they were unable to file an official complaint because, by that time, the Japanese Resident-General of Korea had control of Korea's foreign affairs via the Protectorate Treaty of 1905.

Koreans are not the only ones who were unaware of Japan's incorporation of the islets under the name of "Takeshima." As late as 1923, Japanese maps such as the Chosen Engan Suiroshi (Korean Coastal Straits, 朝鮮沿岸水路誌, 1933) made by the Japanese Navy cited the Liancourt Rocks as part of Korea. In addition, Japanese maps made immediately after the Japanese acquisition of Dokdo/Takeshima in 1905, such as the Kankoku Shinchiri (New Geography of Korea, 韓國新地理)and Teikoku Encyclopedia (帝國百科全書) No. 134 (which was published in September 1905, a whole six months after the islands were incorporated into the Shimane Prefecture) continued to show the Liancourt Rocks as not belonging to Japan. Furthermore, Korean academics point out that the incorporation of the Liancourt Rocks under the name "Takeshima" is erroneous, since "Takeshima" usually refers to Ulleung-do in traditional Japanese records.

During World War II, the island was used as a naval base by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Upon Japan's defeat and occupation by the Allies, SCAP Instruction #677 of January 29, 1946 excluded the islands from Japan's administrative authority:[5] (

For the purpose of this directive, Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku) and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands north of 30° North Latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island); and excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ullung) Island, Liancourt Rocks (Take Island) and Kuelpart (saishu or Cheju) Island, (b) the Ryukyu (nansei) Islands south of 30° North Latitude (including Kuchinoshima Island), the Izu, Kanpo, Sonin (Ogasawara) and Volcano (Kazan or Iwo) Island Groups, and all other outlying Pacific Islands including the Daito (Ohigashi or Gagari) Islands Group, and Parace Vela (Okino-tori), Kercus (Kinami-tori) and Canges (Nakano-tori) Islands, and (c) the Kurile (Ohishima) Islands, the Habomai (Hapomazo) Islands Group (including Suisho, Yuri, ?ki-yuri, ?hibotsu and Taraku Islands) and ?oikotan Island.

The instruction stated that it was not an "ultimate determination the minor islands referred to in Article 8 of the Potsdam Declaration." All islands mentioned in (b) and (c) were eventually returned to Japan, but Ulleung-do and Cheju-do, which were mentioned in (a) along with Liancourt Rocks, were the territories of Joseon Dynasty and sovereignty were given to South Korea since then.

The 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, which settled the sovereignty of most other disputed islands, did not specifically mention Liancourt Rocks as the territory Japan must give up the rights.

From 1947 to 1953, the United States armed forces periodically used Dokdo as a bombing range. On June 8, 1948, several Korean boats were in the water around Dokdo and were sunk as a result of a flight of American airplanes bombing the islets. An estimated 150 to 320 Korean fisherman were killed as a result. [6] (

1950 to 1960

On January 12, 1953, the Government of South Korea ordered the army to enforce their claim on the island, and in the same year on April 20, South Korean volunteer coast guards set up camp on the island. On June 27, 1953, two Japanese coast guard vessels attempted an landing on the East Islet, but were driven off by the Korean guards. Several armed skirmishes followed, leading to the sinking of a Japanese ship by Korean mortar fire on April 21, 1954. Japan protested and suggested arbitration at the International Court of Justice, but the offer was rejected by South Korea. After the incident, South Korea built a lighthouse and a helicopter landing pad on the islet, which it has administered ever since.

1960 to 1990

The issue of sovereignty over the islands was omitted from the 1965 Basic Relations Treaty, and both sides maintain territorial claims. The United States maintains a policy of non-recognition for claims by either side, although several private memoranda recorded in the Foreign Relations of the United States between 1949 and 1951 appear to side with Japan's view and are occasionally brought up as "proof" of American support. On the other hand, recently discovered documents made by the American CIA in Busan in November, 1951 reveal that during the Korean War, Japan staked a claim to the islets by clandestinely landing a group of reporters on the Liancourt Rocks the very same month to survey the terrain. The documents further mention that the American government was opposed to Japan's claim to the islets at the time, and had been aligned with the South Korean argument since South Korea lobbied for the inclusion of the Liancourt Rocks at the time of the San Fransisco Peace Treaty's creation.

According to Takeshima no rekishi chirigakuteki kenkyu (An Historical and Geographical Study of Takeshima, 竹島の歴史地理学的研究) by a researcher Kawakami Kenzo (川上健三) for the Japanese Foreign Ministry written in 1966, the Koreans were not aware of the Liancourt Rocks before the 20th century, as seen in the lack of documents pertaining to the Liancourt Rocks. Kenzo also asserts that Koreans did not have adequate naval navigation to reach Dok-do/Takeshima. Furthermore, he asserts that the Koreans on Ulleungdo could not see Dokdo, due to the heavy forestation on Ulleung-do, which is in fact wrong.

Kim Cheol Hwan (김철환) among others published on Kyongbuk Ilbo (慶北日報 ( a photo of the Liancourt Rocks taken from Ulleung-do on December 11, 1999. Furthermore, Korean historians point to the inaccuracy in Kenzo's claim that Koreans lacked navigation skills to reach the Liancourt Rocks, since Koreans already possessed the skills to reach Ulleung-do from mainland Korea since the 6th century and were the ones who taught the Japanese Chinese naval techniques in the first place (Korean naval superiority before Japanese modernization was proven during the Seven-Year War).

1990 to present

The dispute periodically reignites, typically when South Korea acts to change the islets or their status (for example, by building a wharf in 1996 and declaring the islands a natural monument 2002), which results in a reassertion of Japan's territorial claim. In 2002, two Japanese textbooks questioning Korea's claim to the islets were published, leading to protests in South Korea. Another conflict arose in March 2005, when the prefectual assembly of Shimane passed a bill --with 2 against and 1 absentation-- to designate February 22 as "Takeshima Day," to commemorate the centenary of Japan's claim to the islands. In response, the Korean Masan Municipal Government passed the "Daemado Day" bill unanimously, commemorating General Yi Jong Mu's landing on the Tsushima Islands in 1419, thus placing them under Korean influence.

In a survey performed in both countries, the level of interest in Japan in relation to the islets was substantially lower than in Korea; over 99% of people surveyed in Korea believed that the islets were part of their country. Korea shows the islets in all of their official maps, and includes them in weather forecasts as well.

There are over 900 Korean citizens who list the islands as their residence, while over 2000 Japanese do the same. However, only two Korean citizens, Kim Sung-Do and his wife Kim Sin-Yeol, are known to be the actual permanent residents. There is also a small unit of Korean police stationed on the islands.

According to the North Korean constitution, the entire Korean peninsula and surrounding islands, including Liancourt Rocks, belongs to North Korea (as in the South Korean constitution) and North Korean state press heavily criticizes Japan for their "attempts to invade the Republic's territory."

Liancourt Rocks are designated Natural Monument No. 336 by South Korea. Along with Ulleung-do, the island is preserved as "Ullengdo-Dokdo Provincial Park." In 2004, the South Korean government proposed its promotion to a national park, but this did not take place due to protest from citizens of Ulleng-do concerning more restrictions on development of Ulleung-do, which would come with national park status.

In March 2005, South Korean government declared that the islets are open for both Korean and foreign tourists. Because of environmental concerns and the islets' limited accommodation capacity, quotas for the islets have been set limiting 70 visitors per session and 140 visitors per day.

The first known wedding on the Liancourt Rocks took place on 23 April, 2005, between a pair of Korean couples, Kim Jong-Bok (aged 39), and Song Hee-Jung (aged 32).

External links


de:Liancourt-Felsen fr:Rochers de Liancourt ja:竹島 (島根県) ko:독도 zh:獨島


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