Σάββατο, 12 Αυγούστου 2017

Why the Liancourt Rocks Are Some of the Most Disputed Islands in the World - Condé Nast Traveler


The Liancourt Rocks sound French, but that's just because they're named for a French whaling ship that almost ran aground there in 1849, the first European vessel to see the little islands. They're actually in East Asia, almost exactly halfway between Japan and South Korea—and thereby hangs a tale. We still call them the Liancourt Rocks today because these two Asian powers can't agree on who owns the rocks, or what they should be called, or even what the sea around them is named.
It's the little things that matter.
The craggy island group—two small islets and ninety surrounding rocks and reefs—covers only 47 acres of land in total, the size of New York's Grand Central Terminal. Visitors coming ashore there must brave a cliff stairway so steep that it's almost vertical; food and freight get transported to the top by a pulley system. But despite the islands' small size and inaccessibility, they've become a huge point of contention between Japan and South Korea.
Bamboo Island or Solitary Island?
The Liancourt Rocks were uninhabited before the twentieth century, and historical texts referring to their first settlers are ambiguous. After World War II, the final version of the Allies' peace treaty with Japan failed to mention the Liancourt Rocks among the islands Japan was specifically returning to Korea, so both countries still claim the islands today. Japan calls the island group Takeshima ("bamboo island"); in Korea, it's Dokdo ("solitary island"). Even the name of the sea where the islands sit is different. Often, mapmakers call that body of water the Sea of Japan; on Korean maps it's the "East Sea."
It takes a village to support one fisherman.
The only two civilian residents of the island are a Korean octopus fisherman and his wife. But almost fifty government personnel live there as well, because the South Korean Coast Guard has administered the islands since 1954. In recent years, "Dokdo" has been a big point of pride in the Korean media, inspiring patriotic propaganda and almost 100,000 tourist visits a year. Tourists hop off the ferry, wave flags, and take photos for twenty minutes, and then head back. The Japanese government objects to these visits, since to them visiting "Takeshima" is an international vacation.
The struggle for these islands isn't about the islands.
Predictably, North Korea has jumped into the strained Japan-South Korea relations over the hot spot as well. "Dokdo island has been the sacred territory of North Korea since ancient times," their official state news agency proclaimed in 2012. It doesn't look like any of the three governments will be ceding their claim to the Liancourt Rocks anytime soon. On paper, the dispute is about fishing rights and possible natural gas deposits, but the underlying issue is one of national prestige and not losing face. The real-world stakes—like everything else about these rocks—are pretty small.
Explore the world's oddities every week with Ken Jennings, and check out his book Maphead for more geography trivia.

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