Between April 26 and August 7, 1954, retired 4-star General James Alward Van Fleet traveled to Asia as a Special Ambassador for US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to chronicle a survey of the United States Military Assistance Programs in the Far East. He and his team conducted surveys of the military, economic, and political situation in the region. The report was submitted to the US President on October 4, 1954.
General Van Fleet had fought in World I, World II, and the Korean War. In 1951 he replaced General Matthew B. Ridgway as commander of the US Eight Army and United Nations Forces in Korea. His only son, Captain James A. Van Fleet, Jr. was a B-26 bomber pilot during the Korean War, where he was killed. When he retired from active duty in 1953, his medals and awards included three Distinguished Service Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, three Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat. President Harry S. Truman described him as "the greatest general we have ever had...." He died on September 23, 1992 at the age of 100.
In his "Top Secret" 1954 report, Special Ambassador Van Fleet included a topic entitled "Ownership of Dokto Island," where he comfirmed that the United States and the "Treaty of Peace with Japan" recognized "Dokdo" as Japanese territory. He wrote that South Korea had been confidentially informed of the US position, but that the US position had not been made public.
Below is the relevant paragraph from the original document, and below that is the transcribed section of the report from which it came. LINK
Inventory of Commitments & Problems-Korea
III. Korean Problems With Other Asian Nations
A. JapanThe United States is vitally interested in the establishment of close and friendly relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The security of the two countries against the Communist threat from the Mainland of Asia is inextricably intertwined, and failure to achieve a rapprochement between them creates grave weaknesses from a security point of view that the Communists have sought and will continue to seek to exploit. For these reasons, the United States must endeavor in every way feasible to bring about a rapprochement between the two countries and mutually satisfactory settlement of the major problems outstanding between them.
The failure to achieve settlement thus far stems basically from the lingering hostility between the two peoples resulting from Japan's long rule over Korea. The bitter experiences of the Koreans under the Japanese rule understandably left a deep hatred and distrust of Japan in the minds of Koreans. These strong emotions representing the past seem to be more real in their minds that the present. They fear a renewal of Japanese aggression and view every Japanese move with suspicion. They are alarmed at Japan's reviving strength.
It is believed that the Japanese would like to forget the past--which holds unpleasant memories for them as well as the Koreans. They do not believe that their 40-year occupation of Korea was an entirely unmixed evil. Japan believes that if it was indebted to Korea, the debt was more than taken care of by the transfer to the Republic of Korea Government of Japan's entire public and private holdings in Korea at the end of World War II. Basically, both countries wish to establish normal diplomatic and commercial relations; they wish to trade with each other despite certain official utterances to the contrary.
There are several specific issues between the two countries that deserve careful analysis. It is believed that all of these can be resolved if serious and patient efforts are made and the United States Government provides the leadership in suggesting a strong person as a mediator who has the respect of both the Korean Government and the Japanese Government. These issues are set forth below:
1. FisheriesOf the several problems at issue between Japan and Korea, the fisheries problem is by far the most important, not only because it is of vital concern to the Japanese (a nation that lives on fish) but because the Republic of Korea Government has taken overt action against Japanese fishermen apprehended fishing in the Sea of Japan (or Eastern Sea, as the Koreans call it) approximately 60 miles from Korean shores. The Japanese have eagerly sought a settlement with the Republic of Korea. As for the Koreans, they are genuinely concerned over the possible depletion of their fisheries resources by the superior Japanese fishing fleet. This is particularly acute for the Koreans because they do not have adequate vessels and equipment and trained personnel to fish in waters that are not closely adjacent of Korea. This problem involves the enforcement of the so-called "Rhee Line" or "Peace Line" in the Eastern Sea.
The essential facts are that the Republic of Korea Government has unilaterally proclaimed its sovereignty over a large area of the high seas bordering Korea and by the use of the Republic of Korea Navy has attempted to exclude Japanese fishermen from operations within the area. At times, the Republic of Korea Navy has fired upon Japanese vessels; some of the vessels have been apprehended and taken to Korean ports. After the crews have been tried and sentenced, most of the captured fishermen have been released, but the vessels usually have been detained and are now being reportedly operated by the Republic of Korea. It is believed that the Japanese Government is willing to enter into a reasonable fisheries conservation agreement that would guarantee the preservation of the fisheries and restrict Japanese operation in the area.
According to President Rhee, the "Peace Line" serves a three-fold purpose:
The position of the Republic of Korea Government has been to insist on the recognition of the so-called "Peace Line." The United States Government has consistently taken the position that the unilateral proclamation of sovereignty over the seas is illegal and that the fisheries dispute between Japan and Korea should be settled on the basis of a fisheries conservation agreement that would protect the interests of both countries. The chronology and other aspects of the fisheries is discussed in more detail in Enclosure No. 1.
- a. Conservation of valuable marine resources in Korea's coastal waters;
- b. Elimination of future friction between Korea and Japan with respect to fisheries resources; and
- c. Sea defence against Communist infiltration.
2. Korean Residents in JapanThe Republic of Korea contends that the Koreans, resident in Japan on August 9, 1945, who now reside there, should be given treatment more favorably than that given to the average foreign national in Japan. There are now approximately 600,000 Koreans in Japan. A substantial number of these Koreans were conscripted laborers who were forcibly taken during World War II for Japanese production purposes. They were compelled to work in the mines and military factories. A tentative argument on the nationality status and treatment of the Koreans residents in Japan was reached at the second Japanese Conference of February-April 1952. It was agreed that all should be regarded as citizens of the Republic of Korea, and that, except for illegal entrants, they would be entitled to special treatment to enjoy many privileges ordinarily reserved for Japanese citizens. The agreement , however, has not come into effect because the Conference broke down over other issues. It is understood that the Republic of Korea refuses to approve this agreement until all outstanding issues were settled.
It would seem that the settlement of the problem of the Korean residents in Japan should not prove unduly difficult, if and when general settlement of other outstanding issues is reached. If relations between Japan and Korea continue to deteriorate, however, the Korean minority problem will become increasingly acute. It is understood that a high percentage of the Koreans in Japan, excluded from normal occupations, are on Japanese relief rolls or engaged in illegal activity and many of them are active Communists. These facts do not endear the Korean residents to the Japanese; retaliatory measures against the Korean minority by the Japanese Government--or by the Japanese people themselves-- remain distinct possibilities. The Republic of Korea advised this Mission that the Koreans "now live in a sort of 'no man's land', neither Japanese nor Korean, deprived both of the protection afforded to Japanese nationals under Japanese laws, ad of status of foreign nationals as provided in international law. Depending upon circumstances, they were sometimes treated as Japanese and, at other times, as foreign 'stateless' persons. They had no recourse to law or means of remedy against many discriminations which operated against them. * * * "
3. Korean-Japanese Trade RelationsThe current trade relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan are not satisfactory; recent developments show little prospect of early improvement. Apparently, discrimination against Japan by the Republic of Korea continues, on a de fact basis, despite which equal treatment was provided for Japanese bidders. Only after pressure on the Republic of Korea Government by actual withdrawal by certain Foreign Operations Administration authorizations were these revisions made in the Korean Import Procurement Regulations.
Notwithstanding this revision in the Korean Import Procurement Regulations, the Japanese Government has recently informed the United States Ambassador in Tokyo that various devices and pressure are being used to prevent the placing of orders in Japan for goods to be used in Korea. These include the following--Korean firms state they have been told that if they purchase in Japan, they would be denied credit facilities at the Bank of Korea and would be black-listed by the Korean Procurement Agency for any future business regardless of the source of supply.
It seems clear that the Korean Government does not intend to comply with the new Import Procurement Regulations since the embargo against Japan is apparently retained in full effect. This action on the past of the Korean Government obviously prevents Korea from receiving the benefits of lower priced Japanese goods with this added advantage of early delivery; increases the cost of the Korean Procurement Program, thereby reducing its possible scope; it prevents United States dollars doing double duty by assisting in the support of Japanese economy (urgently needed because of the decline in special dollar receipts arising from offshore procurement and expenditures by security forces) as well as in rehabilitating Korea.
The trade balance between Japan and Korea over the past few months has not been favorable; the outstanding balance that Korea owes Japan amounts to approximately $37,000,000. The United States Ambassador in Tokyo states that the Koreans have cited this unfavorable balance of trade as evidence of Japanese embargo against Korean exports to Japan. Japan recently developed an import program for Korean products that include rice, laver (seaweed), and certain other products that are estimated at approximately $21 million annually.
Moreover, Japan has indicated a willingness to purchase substantial quantities of Korean rice provided the price is not greatly in excess of prices in other supplying countries. To date, the amount of rice exported to Japan, the natural export market for Korean rice, has not approached that exported in prior years. Early in September 1953, the Republic of Korea, on the basis of the bumper rice crop, planned to export 150,000 to 200,000 metric tons of rice to Japan. The Republic of Korea believed that these rice exports to Japan would provide the necessary foreign exchange to import an equivalent tonnage of cheaper grains together with a net gain of $20 million of foreign exchange. The Republic of Korea did not begin to purchase rice for export until December 10, 1953, and it was slow in making money available for rice purchases. Only about 120,000 tons of rice, therefore, became available for export.
The unresolved problem relates to the price at which the Republic of Korea will receive for the rice exported to Japan. It is reported that Japan can buy rice from Formosa and other Southeast Asian countries at $195 to $210 per ton delivered. and United States rice from California at $205 per ton delivered. The Republic of Korea, however, on the basis of the official rate of exchange of 180 Hwan to $1 calculates that it has made an investment of $290 per ton in the rice purchased for export. For this reason, and possibly for bargaining purposes, the Republic of Korea officials have asked $290 per ton. It is reported that Japan has offered $225 per ton for Korean rice if the proceeds are applied to the current indebtedness of the Republic of Korea to Japan under the Republic of Korea-Japan Trade Agreement, or $200 per ton if the proceeds are in free exchange. The Korean rice has always commanded premium price because it is considered the best rice by the Japanese.
The exportation of rice to Japan has become entangled with other economic and political questions including the factors involved in the breakup of the Republic of Korea-Japan talks in late 1953 precipitated by certain ill-advised statements about Korea by the Japanese delegate, Kubota (see page 25); the dispute between the Republic of Korea over each other's performance under the trade agreement; and the embargo by the Republic of Korea on trade with Japan. The official position of the Republic of Korea is that its embargo policy is justified because of Japan's trade restrictions against Korea. Figures are cited showing that Korean exports to Japan amounted to $8 million during the 12-month period ending March 31, 1954, that is, only one-half the amount mentioned in the target in the trade agreement; whereas, imports from Japan (including Foreign Operation Administration financed imports) total almost $65 million, or more than double the target mentioned in the trade agreement. The deficit in Korean exports to Japan was in commodities other than rice because rice was not a specified commodity in the trade agreement. The Japanese are also charged with imposing deliberate restrictions on imports from the Republic of Korea and with over-pricing and poor quality of Japanese exports to the Republic of Korea. On the other hand, Japan complains that the indebtedness of the Republic of Korea under the trade agreement has risen far above the swing limit provided for in the agreement, and that payments are long overdue.
The problem incidental to exporting rice to Japan can be readily solve once the basic issue of Republic of Korea-Japanese relationships is solved. It is important, however, that Republic of Korea export substantial quantities of rice to Japan or to some other country. The Foreign Operations Administration Agricultural Mission in 1953 and the Nathan Associates in 1954 regarded rice as the most important of Korea's potential exports and one that must eventually be increased to about 500,000 tons per year. It is, therefore, important for the Republic of Korea to export rice and Japan is its natural market. Immediate exportation of the present stocks is desirable if deterioration or damage by insects is to be prevented.
4. Ownership of Dokto IslandThe Island of Dokto (otherwise called Liancourt and Take Shima) is in the Sea of Japan approximately midway between Korea and Honshu (131.80E, 36.20N). This Island is, in fact, only a group of barren, uninhabited rocks. When the Treaty of Peace with Japan was being drafted, the Republic of Korea asserted its claims to Dokto but the United States concluded that they remained under Japanese sovereignty and the Island was not included among the Islands that Japan released from its ownership under the Peace Treaty. The Republic of Korea has been confidentially informed of the United States position regarding the islands but our position has not been made public. Though the United States considers that the islands are Japanese territory, we have declined to interfere in the dispute. Our position has been that the dispute might properly be referred to the International Court of Justice and this suggestion has been informally conveyed to the Republic of Korea.
The Mission was advised by Republic of Korea that:
- "What is still worse is that Japan now claims the possession of the little islet of Dokto known Liancourt Rocks near the Woolnungdo known as Dagelet. Japanese officials are making frequent visits to the islet with armed vessels molesting Korean fishermen there. They set up posts here and there in the islet with description declaring as if it were Japanese territory. Throughout our history and knowledge up to the very moment of the declaration of sovereignty over adjacent seas (Rhee Line), Korea's sovereignty over it has never been contended by any country, as it has long been an immovably established fact that the islet, Dokto, has been historically as well as legally a part of Woolnungdo (Dagelet) Korean territory."