Korea’s Political Situation in 1905 and Japan’s Annexation of Dokdo

Dokdo – Takeshima and Korea’s Political Situation in 1905
When analyzing the Dokdo problem we must take into consideration the historical context surrounding Japan’s involvement on the Korean peninsula during the early 20th century. The following article gives us greater understanding as to why Korea was powerless to dispute Japan’s illegal 1905 Shimane Prefecture Inclusion of Dokdo. (also called Takeshima by Japan and Liancourt Rocks by some western nations.) The reader will understand why documented contentions made by Korean government officials and media (see here) against the occupation of Dokdo, were never voiced at the state-to-state level.
The Japan~Korea Protocol of February 1904 and Subsequent Amendments
“..When did Japanese military aggression against Korea really begin..?”
This political cartoon from the early 1900s illustrates Korea's political dilemma.A falsehood perpetuated by Japan’s MOFA is that Takeshima was incorporated peacefully, before Japanese aggression toward Korea had started. In reality, by the time Japan’s military annexed Takeshima in 1905, Japanese had already made serious inroads towards colonizing Korea. Much of Chosun’s independence had already been seriously degraded. As shown by U.S. Foreign Affairs records, Korea became militarily occupied by Japanese forces in February 1904 and lost the ability to conduct foreign relations independently in August of the same year.

To the right, a political cartoon of the day brilliantly depicts Korea’s situation at the time. Chosun attempts to stay neutral while Japan and Russia prepare for war over their desire to control Korea and the adjacent territory.

The Russo-Japanese War begins: On the night of February 8th 1904, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Heihachiro Togo opened the Russo-Japanese War with a surprise topedo attack on the Russian ships at Port Arthur and badly damaged two battleships. On the same day cheering Japanese residents watched a Japanese Naval squadron-one armored cruiser, five light cruisers, and eight torpedo boats-bombard two Russian warships off Palmido Island at the mouth of Incheon Harbor in Korea.

Within several hours the Incheon Port was under Japanese control with sentries posted at key points and squads of soldiers patrolling the streets. To the surprise and distress of the Korean court, several Japanese units began marching toward Seoul. Afterward it took Hayashi Gonsuke two weeks to manipulate cajole and intimidate the Korean leadership into signing a protocol permitting the Japanese to undertake military operations on Korean territory.

These records from the U.S. Foreign Affairs Office reveal how Korea became militarily occupied by Japan in February of 1904. On the above right American documents record Japan assumed control over all Korean foreign affairs in August of 1904. (click images)
The protocol signed on February 23 1904, allowed the Japanese to occupy strategic areas of Korea to achieve the territorial integrity of Korea if endangered by the aggression of a third Power or internal disturbances.

To forestall any backtracking Hayashi arranged to remove all chief anti-Japanese leaders from Korea. Thus, as of February 23, 1904 about a year before the Japanese annexed Dokdo, the Japanese were “legally” allowed to place their troops anywhere in Korea. As explained, even before the formal establishment of a protectorate in Korea, the Japanese were making de facto inroads on Korean sovereignty.

To the right is a photograph of Japanese Generals and Officials after signing the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty

Japan Seizes Control of More Korean Government Affairs – May 30th 1905
About three months after Japan annexed Takeshima, these U.S. Foreign Affairs documents record Japan’s control over many of Korea’s internal administrative functions. Most important, was the Japanese Imperial Government’s control over Korea’s communications systems. This included postal, telegraph and telephone systems. Also detailed in this record are Japan’s strict methods of punishment of those guilty of crimes. This included both capital punishment (ie hanging) and corporal punishment (ie lashing).

Above: More U.S. Foreign Affairs Documents. These documents record Japan control over Korea’s communications systems such as postal, telegraph and telephone systems. Also detailed are Imperial Japan’s brutal system of punishment for criminals.
The Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1905
The British and the Japanese signed two treaties, the first of which was in 1902 and was later revised on August 12th 1905. The text relevant to Korea in the 1905 expanded version reads as follows:

Article III:
“…Japan possessing paramount political, military and economic interests in Korea, Great Britain recognizes the right of Japan to take such measures of guidance, control and protection in Korea as she may deem proper and necessary to safeguard and advance those interests, provided always that such measures are not contrary to the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations…..”

Note C:
“In case Japan finds it necessary to establish [a] protectorate over Corea in order to check [the] aggressive action of any third Power, and to prevent complications in connection with [the] foreign relations of Corea, Great Britain engages to support the action of Japan..”

The 1905 Japan-Russia Portsmouth Treaty
After suffering heavy military losses in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia and Japan agreed to sign The Portsmouth Treaty. It was signed on September 5th 1905 and was mediated by Theodore Roosevelt.

The article relevant to Korea is as follows:

Article II
“…The Imperial Russian Government, acknowledging that Japan possesses in Korea paramount political, military and economical interests engages neither to obstruct nor interfere with measures for guidance, protection and control which the Imperial Government of Japan may find necessary to take in Korea…”

American foreign policy could be said to have favoured Japanese interests in Korea. As with the Portsmouth Treaty, the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki between China and Japan, supported Japanese involvement in Korea. Both of these treaties were drafted under American guidance.

The Coerced 1905 Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty
Immediately after the Portsmouth Treaty went into effect, Japan sent Hirobumi It to Korea and forced the Korean government to conclude the Second Korea-Japan Agreement. As the cabinet meeting convened on November 17th to discus this treaty, the consensus was to oppose it.
“…Hirobumi Ito who was informed of the negative atmosphere, accompanied the garrison commanding general and the head of the military police, and intervened immediately. Among the seven members of the Cabinet, only two, the Prime Minister Han Kyu-sul and the Minister of Treasury, Young-Kee Min opposed the treaty and were placed in custody by the Japanese military police. The other five were so frightened they resigned, refusing to either assent or dissent. However, Ito regarded this silence as approval. For final ratification Ito had a Japanese soldier seize the seal of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and forced the Ministers to sign the document…”

No documents granting full powers to Japan have ever been found yet in any archives.

The Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty Stated that:

Article 1. “…The Government of Japan, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, will hereafter have control and direction of the external relations and affairs of Korea, and the diplomatic and consular representatives of Japan will have charge of the subjects and interests of Korea in other countries..”

As we can see, it was through Article 1 of the coerced Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty that Korea lost the means to file protests beyond the internal government level. Upon refusing to sign the 1905 Protectorate Treaty, King Kojong issued a Declaration of Denial. The king sent a special envoy, Ambassador Young-Chan Min, the resident ambassador to the U.S. Secretary of State to Washington.

He also requested Homer B. Hulbert, a Missionary-Diplomat and longtime resident of Korea to convey his “Declaration of Denial” to the President of the United States (Roosevelt). However he was not allowed to present his protest.. He was advised he had no credentials from the existing government of Korea, i.e. the government imposed by Japan.

The Washington Evening Star Newspaper printed King Kojong’s Declaration on December 13th, 1905 it read:

“…I the Emperor of the Korean Empire, declare that this Korea-Japan Agreement has no legal effect because this was concluded unlawfully by force. I did not sign the document and I will never sign it…”

Above left: The 1905 Protectorate Treaty lacked the King’s Seal – a requirement under the Chosun constitution. Above right: In this bilingual plea, the King of Korea asks Britain for their assistance and sympathy quoting: “..The signature of our cabinet were obtained by intimidation and never authorized the cabinet to sign treaty which was illegal..
Korea’s Political Situation in 1905 and Japan’s Annexation of Dokdo – Takeshima
“Korea’s Foreign Affairs Department lost the ability to function independently by August 1904…”
The last months 1905 saw a flurry of Japanese diplomatic activity related to Korea with no less than four major agreements being completed. All of the Japanese treaties had special articles included for the sole purpose of stripping away Korea’s sovereignty. When one notes the timing of the agreements it becomes clear why the Japanese didn’t notify Korea of the annexing of Dokdo until one year after the fact (March 28, 1906).

By the time the Koreans became aware of the annexation of Dokdo, their Foreign Ministry had been dismantled. With this action, the abilty for them to file formal protests at a state-to-state level was lost.

To the right, this newspaper article was printed on January 1st 1930 in the Dong-Ah Ilbo’s Special New Year’s Edition. In this interview former Prime Minister Han Kyu-sul described in detail how the Japanese coerced and intimidated Korean officials who opposed the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty. He testifies how tense the atmosphere became as Japanese soldiers surrounded the King’s quarters and forced the document to be signed.

Harvard Law school would later cite the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty as one of four classic examples of a coerced treaty likening the agreement to Hilter’s coercion over European countries.

As we will see, when the Koreans were informed of Japan’s annexation of Dokdo they contested this action with what governmental organs remained in tact. The Provincial Governor and Domestic Affairs Departments both concurred that Dokdo was Korean territory and called Japan’s actions wrongful. Two national newspapers also criticized Japan’s Shimane Prefecture inclusion the moment they became aware of this illegal act.

Over the years more documents have surfaced proving Japan’s real motives for seizing Dokdo during were seriously flawed. Thus, the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department has craftily tried to sanitize the Dokdo issue by claiming this is simply a territorial land dispute. Japanese historians make no mention of documented objections by Koreans who were shocked to know Japan had seized Dokdo Island. This is a deliberate effort to conceal the documented historical facts surrounding Japan’s military ambitions in Korea during this painful chapter of Asian history.