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U.S. Perplexed over Dokdo’s ‘Undesignated Sovereignty’ Tag

U.S. Perplexed over Dokdo’s ‘Undesignated Sovereignty’ Tag

Posted July. 31, 2008 08:48,   


The U.S. government is apparently perplexed over the unexpected ripple effects of its re-categorization of sovereignty over the Dokdo islets.

Washington reportedly feels too burdened to describe other disputed areas as “undesignated sovereignty,” making it likely that it will withdraw its policy to describe disputed areas as such.

The U.S. Board for Geographic Names changed the status of the Dokdo islets to “undesignated sovereignty,” since it decided to categorize 50 disputed areas that way in January this year.

A source close to Washington said yesterday, “The Board for Geographic Names created the new code of ‘undesignated sovereignty’ in January last year to describe 50 disputed areas, including the Paracel Islands being fought over between China and Vietnam, and the Kuril Islands, whose sovereignty has been claimed by both Russia and Japan.”

After discussing which areas should be included in the category, the board decided to provide the names of islands instead of those of nations with sovereignty, when users search the name of nations that own the Spratly and Paracel islands. The board also talked about the Kuril Islands.

Though no islands had been described “undesignated sovereignty,” Dokdo is the first area to get that designation since the Library of Congress raised a question to the board. The board used the term Liancourt Rocks instead of Dokdo.

The board asked opinions from certain government agencies including the State Department, and then decided to categorize Dokdo as an area of “undesignated sovereignty.”

Given that, the decision to describe the Dokdo islets that way was apparently based on the judgment of U.S. experts in geography and geographical names. It was a coincidence that the change came when relations between Korea and Japan worsened due to their dispute over the islets.

It is premature, however, to say experts made the decision without intent to side with Japan.

Tokyo has been involved in several territorial squabbles, and land under dispute is usually described as territories of the nations that effectively control the areas.

In light of Korean rage over the U.S. geographic board’s decision, the White House and the State Department are perplexed since they need to strike a balance between Washington’s alliance with Japan and with other nations.

A source said, “In the 2000s, the U.S.-Japan alliance has been upgraded to a level equivalent to the alliance between the United States and Britain. The United States, however, pays more attention to its alliance with South Korea, which should play a critical role in North Korea’s denuclearization and the war on terrorism.”

The Bush administration is also worried over inviting more problems if it describes other disputed areas such as the Kuril and Spratly islands as “undesignated sovereignty.” Such a decision could open a Pandora ’s Box.

In a meeting with Korean Ambassador to the United States Lee Tae-shik Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy National Security Advisor James Jeffrey said the U.S. board’s decision was not proper, given recent disputes between Korea and Japan.

In talks with Lee Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he will come up with appropriate measures.

A scholar familiar with experts on geographic names also told The Dong-A Ilbo on the phone, “Good news will be released.”

A presidential office source said, “The U.S. government told us it will look for effective measures.”

Conflicts could appear, however, among the White House, State Department and experts. When George Washington University professor Kim Yeong-gi asked expert and board member Randall Flynn if it is possible to temporarily undo the designation change, Flynn answered no.

After receiving calls and e-mail from The Dong-A Ilbo, Flynn simply said the board’s public affairs section will respond. But the section then said the public affairs section of the State Department of State is in charge of the issue.

sechepa@donga.com triplets@donga.com