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So, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has decided to stoke the flames anew, visiting the disputed islands of Dokdo or Takeshima, depending on one’s status as Japanese or Korean.  Why now?  Why do they keep doing it?  The last serious flareup occurred during my stint as a hakweon teacher in Busan, Korea.  I entered my classroom to discover that my 7 year old students had written “Dokdo is Korean” on the whiteboard along with many statements against the “dog people,” which I was to discover was Konglish for the denizens of the most sacred isle of Japan.
It was a matter of much snickering amongst foreign teachers of English in Korea, and we rushed out to purchase hyper-nationalist paraphernalia which dictated to the unknowledgeable that Dokdo was indeed, Korean.
Not only did Lee visit the islands at a particularly poor moment when relations were thought to have resumed some degree of normalcy, but on the eve of a South Korea – Japan olympic football match.  It was, one might think, a rather pathetic attempt at burnishing his nationalistic credentials, particularly before the anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea.
The islands themselves have no intrinsic value, and certainly present an opportunity for two Asian powerhouses to demonstrate they have come of age by co-operation.  However, the ultra-nationalistic South Koreans would never forgive a display of perceived weakness by a president, although it is perhaps more hopeful that Japanese folk might be more forgiving.  Sadly, Japan is ruled by a quieter, though equally ultra-conservative, minority of elder Japanese bureaucrats who through domination of wealth and electoral power crush the acquiescent majority.  Japan’s ambassador to South Korea was quickly yanked.
One must ask the question, why?  Why must South Korean fools dash into splinters every possible co-operation with Japan?  Ranting, raving, and frothing at the mouth, and utterly ruining any chance of some South-East Asian co-operation.  Although Japan nationalists are equally appalling and mouthy, they are much fewer and much less visible.  A quick search on Dokdo followed by a search on Takeshima will reveal that the number of Koreans who fulminate on the subject far exceeds the Japanese contribution.  A message to Korea and Koreans: bury the past before it buries you.  Whether you are right or wrong, you’re not helping.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate some cool-headedness on both sides, and South Korea utterly blew it.  I would have cheered for a South Korean Olympic victory over Japan (in the football sense), but it was ruined by ultra-nationalist posturing.

For more info, check out http://dokdo-research.com/index.html