Koreans are rightly angered each time Japan renews an unwarranted claim to Korea’s easternmost rocky islets of Dokdo. This time, however, many of them voiced as much disappointment as anger on hearing that the Japanese government approved of junior high school textbooks describing the islets as part of Japanese territory. They apparently felt disappointed that their goodwill was not reciprocated.
Since Japan was struck by the triple disaster of an earthquake, a tsunami and the crippling of nuclear power plants, Korean citizens, charities and other nongovernmental organizations have been participating in a campaign to make donations to Japanese victims. Many of them apparently believed that the extension of their helping hand would bring Korea and Japan close. Relations between the two neighbors have been adversarial more often than not.
But the Japanese government made an official statement that it had approved junior high school textbooks describing the Dokdo islets as part of Japanese territory. Japanese officials were quoted as saying that Japan went ahead with the announcement because it had already been scheduled.
Of course, few Koreans should be naive enough to believe that their goodwill would persuade Japan to drop its territorial claim. Nor would they believe that one more ritual repetition of the territorial claim by Japan have any impact on Korea’s exercise of sovereignty on the islets. Nonetheless, the Japanese government could have made a gesture of goodwill with regard to its announcement.
The Korean government dealt with the matter as it had forcefully done in the past ― bringing in Japan’s envoy to the foreign minister’s office and lodging a strong protest. The diplomatic task of immediate concern was separate from the plight of Japanese disaster victims, though. Hence there was no good reason to discontinue the humanitarian aid, which was not preconditioned by any act of reciprocity in the first place.