On the day I travelled back to Korea after a trip to the UK last week, the Korea Times, an English-language newspaper, published the results of an essay contest relating to the previously mentioned disputed islands between Korea and Japan. To quote:
“The rocky islets of Dokdo have been the source of constant contention between Korea and Japan.
This year’s essay contest, in its fifth year, aims at providing people an opportunity to delve into the historic backgrounds of the issue, so that people have a chance to contend with the facts regarding Japan’s claims.”
It’s a sensitive subject in this part of the world and I don’t want to take sides or cause offence. However, the results of the essay competition are pretty predictable: essays that use historical and highly emotional claims that the islands are Korean.
Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the result of the essay competition (and, indeed, its intention) is to promote a particular point of view and reinforce a sense of national pride and identity.
Of course, such cases don’t just exist in Korea and north-east Asia – just look at the claims and counter-claims relating to Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. It would also be wrong to consider such conflicts to be not important; they clearly are, from an emotional and practical point of view.
Are such conflicts an inevitable characteristic of humanity, part of our individual and collective DNA?