Territorial Dispute Between Japan & South Korea: Settling Scores

Here we go again. This week saw rekindling of another old territorial dispute in the Far East. This time it was between Japan and South Korea ​over the Liancourt Rocks - a group of islets in Sea of Japan known to the Japanese as Takeshima  and to the South Koreans as Dokdo. Japan is already locked in dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands and with China over the Senkaku Islands. Now South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's surprise, unprecedented visit this week to this disputed territory, has added fresh fuel to the simmering problems between Japan and South Korea. 

Liancourt Rocks; Image Source:Wiki

​Liancourt Rocks; Image Source:Wiki

Liancourt Rocks consists of two main islets and several smaller islets, created by volcanic activity.  The geographical location of this disputed ​territory is 87km southeast of Ulleungdo Island of South Korea and 157km northwest of Oki Island (Shimane prefecture) of Japan. The area is mostly inhabitable and has been administered by the South Koreans since the 1950s. South Korea maintains a Coast Guard station, a lighthouse, and a helicopter pad on the island decorated with (of course) the country's flag. 

Japan claims territorial rights to the Liancourt Rocks from a historical perspective. According to the Japanese Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, "In Japan, since Jinkichi Ohya and Ichibei Murakawa, who were both merchants of Yonago in the Houki-no-kuni region in the Tottori clan, received permission for passage to Utsuryo Island (then "Takeshima") from the Shogunate via the feudal lord of Tottori at the beginning of the Edo Period in the early 17th century, the two families took turns in traveling to Utsuryo Island once every year and engaging in activities such as harvesting abalone, hunting sea lions and the felling bamboo and other trees. Japan established the sovereignty of Takeshima by the beginning of the Edo Period, in the mid 17th century at the very latest." ​

Japan further highlights that cartographic depictions of Japan as early as 1779 show the now disputed territory as an integral part of Japan, even though it did not officially incorporate the land until February 1905.

The South Koreans maintain that the territory not only belonged to them prior to the Japanese colonization of the region in 1905, but it was in effect returned to them at the end of the Japanese occupation. The South Koreans defend their position by saying that, " When the United States composed the draft of the San Francisco Peace Treaty for the Allies, it included substantive enactment that Dokdo was a Korean territory from the 1st draft to 5th draft.

When noticing it, Japan lobbied through American counselor to provide Dokdo as a radar base and meteorological observatory for the US Air Forces. As a result, the US marked that Dokdo was not Korean territory but Japanese territory in 6th draft. However, other allies such as the Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia did not agree to the 6th draft of the US. So Dokdo was not mentioned in the 7th-9th draft.

The article 2 of San Francisco Peace Treaty ratified in San Francisco in September 1951 stated that Japan recognized the independence of Korea and relegated all rights of sovereignty in Jejudo, Geomundo and Uleungdo to Korea. And Dokdo was left out of it. So, Japan has maintained that the Allies recognized Dokdo as a Japanese territory. 

This claim by Japan is factually inaccurate. Since Dokdo is annexed island to Uleungdo, to record just Uleungdo is that they recognized its annexed island Dokdo as a Korean territory automatically."

Over the ensuing decades since the San Francisco Treaty, even though the two countries have by and large maintained diplomatic ties and trade relations; this territorial dispute remains a hot button issue. For instance, when in 2005 the Shimane prefecture in Japan declared a "Takeshima Day", the response from the South Koreans was was so fierce that a South Korean man set himself on fire in front of the Japanese Embassy. 

​The recent flare-up started with the release of Japan's Annual White Paper (aka Annual Defense Report)​, released a couple of weeks ago, which reiterated that, "Japan also confronts unresolved territorial disputes over the Northern Territories and Takeshima, both of which are integral parts of Japanese territory". This assertion by the Japanese (which is not really anything new) may have prompted President Lee to take the historic trip to the Liancourt Rocks, thus becoming the first ever South Korean President to visit the disputed territory. 

Even though Seoul is maintaing its stand that Lee's visit this week was not intended to stir up conflict with its neighbor and was only meant to highlight the islands' natural resources; the diplomatic fall out was almost immediate. ​Lee's visit was characterized by Japanese PM Noda as "totally unacceptable".

Within hours of Lee's visit, the front glass door of the South Korean Consulate General's office in Hiroshima was shattered by a brick; an incident believed to be linked to Lee's visit. In response to this incident, South Korea has asked Japan to step up protection at the nine offices of the South Korean diplomatic mission in Japan. 

Japan has recalled its Ambassador to South Korea stating that, "In protest, we are temporarily pulling out Ambassador Mutoh from the Japanese Embassy in South Korea." Japan has also announced that it will postpone the upcoming financial talks between the countries, which were originally scheduled to be held by the end of this month. The two countries have held annual financial talks with each other since 2005. Japan has cited "difficulty in scheduling" as the reason for pulling out of the talks this year. 

Here's an excerpt from the Japanese news paper, The Asahi Shimbun: "​As far as Japan is concerned, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak crossed the line, and in doing so threw relations with Japan into a tailspin. Former presidents of South Korea had refrained from making such visits, thereby keeping relations with Japan cordial.

Lee's political grandstanding is at odds with his oft-stated remarks that South Korea should seek future-oriented relations with Japan. Lee clearly had domestic issues in mind when he decided to visit Takeshima. His administration has been rocked by a series of arrests of people close to him, including his elder brother who had served as chairman of the South Korea-Japan parliamentary league.​

"President Lee knows that his visit to Dokdo will not lead to rise in the support rate for him. But the series of scandals no doubt were a factor in his decision as he wanted to divert the people's attention to another issue," said an indivual who previously advised Lee on policies toward Japan.

The Japanese government was caught completely off-guard by Lee's visit. "We had never thought the president would land on Takeshima," said a high-ranking Japanese government official on the morning of Aug. 10."

Today Tokyo announced that it wants to take this territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. However this diplomatic stance is for all practical purposes an empty threat, as it is unlikely that the case will be heard at the ICJ. The ICJ only accepts cases where both parties agree beforehand to abide by its ruling. Japan has tried to bring this territorial dispute to the ICJ twice before, in September 1954 and March 1962, but each time South Korea has refused to let the court decide on this matter. There is not much Tokyo can do unilaterally to bring this dispute to the ICJ if Seoul does not cooperate. 

Seoul has already rejected the idea even today, just hours after Tokyo's announcement. The Korea Times reports that, ""The reason why the Japanese side is considering filing a suit with the International Court of Justice is to make the Dokdo issue an international dispute," the government official told Yonhap News Agency by telephone. "Our government's basic stance is that we will not accept it because Dokdo is clearly our territory," the official said on the condition of anonymity. "

The disputed territory in the Sea of Japan is believed to ​be a rich resource of fishing and also natural gas; so there is clearly an economic angle to this tension. But at its core, it is symbolic of the region's bitter history. 

Here is an excerpt from a 1996 article published in The Chicago Tribune by Michael Lev which poignantly points out​ the historical context of this dispute: "In one sense, the disagreement over the island--called Takeshima by Japan--is about money. But in a deeper sense, it matters very little where the island is, what it looks like or whether there is good fishing nearby.

The argument isn't about ownership; it's about history, a previous war and what Koreans emotionally consider to be unfinished business with Japan.​

Japan's colonial rule of Korea was brutal and complete. Children were taught Japanese in school, and families were forced to take Japanese names. But in South Korea, the resentment that remains isn't so much over the colonial years. While many Koreans who learned Japanese would prefer not to speak it, Japanese cuisine remains popular, and South Koreans do big business with Japan.​

The sensitive point for Koreans is the belief that Japan has yet to fully repent for its transgressions before and during World War II. Japan has offered its "regret" and muted apologies, but Koreans say the Japanese government is not sufficiently sincere.​

Japanese officials say they feel anti-Japanese sentiment is manipulated by South Korean politicians to whip up easy support. When explaining why Korea remains bitter, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official appeared puzzled. "We know it will take many more years," the official said. "Whatever we say, they say: Look at history. It's revisited whenever they find something unacceptable with Japan." In response, a Korean Foreign Ministry official scoffed. "We can't force them to repent. We have a long history. Perhaps we'll live with this for 500 or 1,000 years."​"

​A long standing, unresolved territorial dispute between these two neighbors will prove detrimental to the geopolitics of the entire region; proving perhaps that the future of humanity is somehow always held hostage by its history.  

~ Gauri​

The Smart Grid: 21st Century Electrical Supply

Given India's recent epic power failure, this seems like an opportune time to discuss the future of electricity supply in the 21st century. Thankfully the myriad of technological innovations which on hand put more pressure on the system on the demand side, can also help to mitigate the energy crisis, by providing many creative solutions. The smart grid is one such idea.

Before we discuss the smart grid, we need to first understand what a conventional (non-smart) electrical grid is. A grid in its simplest form is a network of transmission lines that connect a power station to the consumer via substations, and transformers. The current electrical grid operational here in the US was first built in the 1890s and updated subsequently over the ensuing decades as technology evolved. 

While highly innovative when it was first developed, the conventional grid has many drawbacks. ​It was never really designed to meet the demands of the digital world that we inhabit today. The conventional system is designed to ensure unilateral supply of electricity from power source to consumer; while a smart grid has sensors placed at various points along the way, which transmit data back to power supply station, while at the same time transmitting electricity to the consumer. 

This two-way communication between the power station and the consumer can be achieved through a variety of technological applications. According to the SGIC (Smart Grid information Clearinghouse), developed by Virginia Tech for the US Government: "Much in the way that a “smart” phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means “computerizing” the electric utility grid.

Each device on the network can be given sensors to gather data (power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, etc.), plus two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility’s network operations center. A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location.

With traditional utility technology, when a tree limb falls on a power line and creates an outage, for example, the utility finds out only when a customer calls to complain. With a smart grid system, devices along the network can automatically tell the utility exactly when and where an outage occurred, close the circuit at that location, to “island” the fault, re-route power around failed equipment and create a detailed “trouble ticket” for a repair crew.​

Traditionally, electric utilities estimate that a certain type of equipment is likely to wear out after so many years and thus replaces every piece of that technology within that many years -- even devices that have much more useful life left in them. A smart grid system can spot failing grid devices before they give out, letting the utility use a much more cost effective replacement strategy.​

When customers are given access to data about their own power use, they can change their habits to be more efficient and save money. 

The biggest cost savings in using smart grid may be found in improved efficiency of electricity-delivery operations. For example, once the voltage is known and updated frequently all around a utility’s grid, the utility can work much more efficiently. Rather than supplying extra voltage into the grid to cover possible dips somewhere on that grid, voltage drops can be identified and addressed remotely. Such a direct response lets the utility supply the minimum amount of voltage needed for smooth operations. "​

Many countries around the world are investing heavily in updating their preexisting infrastructure and building new smart grid systems. According to a study published in 2010 by Zpryme Research, as of 2010 China had invested the most ($ 7.3 billion) in terms of federal spending on smart grids, followed closely by the US ($7.1 billion). The other top global investors in smart grid technology in 2010 were - Japan ($849 million), South Korea ($824 million), Spain ($807 million), Germany ($397 million), Australia ($360 million), the UK ($290 million), France ($265 million) and Brazil ($204 million). 

Technology companies like IBM, GE, Siemens, Accenture, Cisco are increasingly investing in the smart grid systems. Despite the promise of increased efficiency, reliability, reduced GHG emissions and sustainability with the smart grids, the system is not without its critics or skeptics.

The first major obstacle seems to be the massive initial investment cost. A study released by the EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) in March 2011 estimates that the US needs to invest anywhere between $338 to $476 billion in the next two decades in the smart grid technology. Although the benefits to cost ratio is impressive, with expected benefits of $1.2 to 2 trillion for this investment; such massive investment even for developed countries can be overwhelming and for developing countries even more challenging. 

There are also concerns about security with a computerized smart grid. Here's an excerpt from a 2011 article from the Scientific American magazine: "A year ago, an unidentified computer intruder tried to penetrate the Lower Colorado River Authority's power generation network with 4,800 high-speed log-in attempts that originated at an Internet address in China, according to a grid official's confidential memo that was leaked to the media. 

The risk that a hacker could disrupt a closely managed grid control system is considerably lower than for an intrusion into a financial or industrial network, but the consequences could be far grave​. And the scope of the threat is expanding faster than the utility sector's response, says Michael Assante, the former chief security officer of the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the federally designated grid monitor. 

​"The smart grid increases the complexity of the system," Assante said in an interview. "There is more technology, and more networks highly interconnected to share information. You've increased the overall attack surface. You're deploying technology that is no longer in a building you control, and you are deploying it over the air, right up to the home. And you are deploying it at such a scale, it's a real challenge to manage and maintain security," Assante said. "We should deploy the technology" because of the range of benefits it promises, he said. "But we must learn where the weaknesses are.""

With humanity's rising energy demands, the planet's finite supply of resources, along with outdated infrastructure; our collective future demands that we address ways to meet our needs efficiently as a matter of priority. And for lack of better alternatives, it is safe to say that the smart grid technology despite its unique challenges, is​ here to stay. 

Here's a short video from PBS about Smart Grid Solutions (video is 5 min 29 sec long):​

~ Gauri​

The Pussy Riot Trial In Russia: Punk Rock Dissent Against Putin

The highly controversial trial of the three members of the Russian punk rock band, ​Pussy Riot, which has garnered huge international attention began in Moscow today. The case of the three female rockers - Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 - is widely seen as yet another evidence of President Putin's rapidly declining patience for dissent and opposition within the country. 

Pussy Riot Girls; Image Source:Wiki

Pussy Riot Girls; Image Source:Wiki​

Just days before Putin's third (and most recent) re-election, on February 21, 2012 wearing their signature neon colored balaclava hoods, the Pussy Riot girls took to the Altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Their unauthorized musical performance at the Altar lasted less than a minute and included a lewd ​prayer to the "Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin" to "throw Putin out!".

This wasn't their first such performance. The girls consider themselves civil activists. The group is known to make surprise public appearances and sing anti-government songs. Their earlier performance at the Red Square, in which they sang another anti-Putin song had gone viral on the Internet (see here). Their performance at the Church however not only angered the Orthodox Church but it provided the Kremlin with the just the right kind of ammunition to crack down on the band. 

On March 3, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested by the Russian authorities on charges on 'hooliganism'. ​The third member - Samutsevitch - was arrested on March 16. The girls have been in jail without bail since March. Two of them are mothers of young children, who have not been allowed any family visits in the jail over the past almost five months. If convicted, the girls face up to seven years in prison. 

The Moscow Times reports today that in a recent interview with London's Times, "Medvedev conceded that pretrial detention (of the Pussy Riot girls)  was a "serious ordeal" for the defendants and their families. But, he said, opinions will always be different about what is permissible "from a moral point of view" and which "ethical actions transform into criminally prosecuted behavior."

Critics of the Pussy Riot girls say that they should not have used the Church's Altar to stage their musical protest against Putin. It is one thing to sing anti-Putin songs in the Red Square and quite another to perform uninvited inside the Church.​ 

The girls have apologized and clarified that they did not intend to offend Christians. Today ​in court, statements read on their behalf expressed regret at any offense their performance may have caused to the Christian community; however they did not plead guilty to the charges brought against them and they stand by their protest of President Putin. ​

Their rationale for using the cathedral to launch their public protest against Putin was to highlight the close ties between the Orthodox Church and the State, especially with President Putin. ​A recently published article in The Economist explains: "In recent months, as Vladimir Putin, the president, has faced unprecedented opposition from the more modern and Westernised of Russia’s citizens, he has set out to marginalise that constituency while building up the forces of conservatism and xenophobia.

President Putin; Image Source: WikiCommons

President Putin; Image Source: WikiCommons​

The Russian Orthodox church, which has long found itself in a symbiotic embrace with Mr Putin, has become a central pillar of legitimacy in this political struggle. Svetlana Solodovnik, who studies the Orthodox church, says that religious leaders work “to nurture a paternalistic mood” among the population and “to teach people to rely on the state and to be grateful for its care”.

The trial against the members of Pussy Riot provides an opportunity to use the language of moral outrage to paint those opposed to Mr Putin and the Russian government as louche and untrustworthy, the embodiments of exactly the sort of outside forces that seek to defile Russia and its traditions."

The religious sect and Russian conservatives, especially Putin supporters are in favor of harsh punishment to the girls. However general public support in Russia for this prosecution is underwhelming. According to the VOA News, a newly released survey by the Levada Center (Moscow based research center/NGO) this week shows that only 17% of the Russian population surveyed, is in favor of punishing the girls harshly. 

There have been multiple public rallies and gatherings in Russia in support of the Pussy Riot girls. ​Russian as well as international artists, musicians, human rights groups (like Amnesty International) and prominent members of the Russian society have voiced public support for the girls and have asked the Kremlin to show leniency.

Not everyone who supports the girls is condoning their Church performance but they are asking the government to use judgment to ensure that the proposed punishment does not exceed the (alleged) crime. ​

Public support for the Pussy Riot girls both nationally and internationally ​follows innumerable prior instances in the Putin (/Medvedev) administration of blatant violation and suppression of most basic human rights and growing displeasure against a quasi-democratic regime which functions like an autocracy. 

Regardless of the public support and support from celebrities, ultimately the girls' fate would be determined in the Russian court of law. ​​The public's lack of faith in the Russian judicial system, especially when it comes to highly politicized cases, complicates the matter even more. 

The girls have asked to be tried for misdemeanor instead of a felony. The Moscow Times reports (in the article linked above) that under Russian law, hooliganism classified as misdemeanor carries penalty of 15-day jail sentence or a fine up to 2,500 rubles ($80). Under a felony conviction, they could spend years in prison. 

The question ​it seems, even from the girls' perspective, is not so much if they should be punished, but rather the degree of punishment and how the Kremlin uses this case to send a strong public message to deter other dissidents. 

Here's a recent short video from Reuters about this infamous trial (video is 1 min 14 sec long):

~ Gauri