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Territorial dispute on Gando, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture

- By Dr. Park Sun-young, Professor of History, Pohang University of Science and Technology

Gando: Why does it matter?
We all long for peace in Asia. A peaceful Asia allows us to have calmness and stability in our lives. However, from time to time peace is interrupted due to a failure to resolve conflicts that exist under the surface. Although there are definitely elements of conflict that persist in Asia, some do not yet rise to the surface because of the difference in power among countries, which in this case we may call it a 'disguised peace.' A seemingly peaceful situation may actually be a volcano about to erupt. Certainly, conflict among countries should be resolved through diplomatic dialogue, because it shakes the lives of the entire people. Among the many issues that obstruct peace in Asia, such as racial and religious conflict, the issue of Gando (presently the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture) is often overlooked. The Gando issue can be said to be both a territorial and a border issue between Korea and China. However, this issue is not just a matter between the two countries. In the early 20th century, Gando was an area which caught the interests of Korea, China, Russia and Japan. All of these countries have competed over Gando as both a strategic location and a traffic center, in order to hold and expand their influence in the northeast.

After the victory of the Russo-Japanese war, Japan advanced to Gando where Russia's influence faded away. In 1905, Japan deprived the Korean Empire of its diplomatic rights through the Eulsa Treaty. However, this treaty had numerous procedural defects in terms of a lack of delegation and ratification, as well as Japan's violation of the law in signing the treaty. Therefore, it is obvious that the Eulsa Treaty could not be valid because it was at fault in procedures from the start. On the basis of this treaty, Japan intervened between Korea and China concerning the important diplomatic issue of Gando, and signed 'the Gando Treaty' that handed over the sovereignty of Gando to China. On the condition of Gando becoming a part of China, Japan expectedly made China sign 'the Manchu Treaty' that guaranteed many rights for Japan, such as a right to construct railroads and to mine coal in the northeastern territory. These two treaties between China and Japan were signed on September 4, 1909, as each country consented to the agreement in exchange for the treaty of the other party.



Historically, China and Korea have had tension concerning control of this general area since 1712, around the time when Mt. Baekdu Stele was erected to demarcate the border between the two countries. However, the territorial conflict did not escalate until 1882 when China suddenly evicted the Koreans who had long occupied and cultivated Gando. To resolve this conflict, China and Korea had diplomatic negotiations in 1885 and in 1887, but didnn't reach an agreement. Later, Gando was given to China by Japan, which had already taken diplomatic rights away from Korea, with no consideration of Korea's rights and interests in the area.

The Gando Treaty continues to create conflict in Asia and should be considered null and void because of its many faulty aspects. The treaty is invalid by international law because Korea's (a third party) territorial rights were transferred to China by Japan on the basis of the Eulsa treaty, which itself was illegal and invalid. Also, all other treaties made by Imperial Japan, except for the Gando Treaty, became invalid with the unconditional surrender of Japan in 1945. Even the Manchu Treaty was invalidated, yet China has effectively controlled Gando on the basis of the Gando Treaty, which was exchanged for the Manchu Treaty. In addition, 'the Treaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan' in 1965 states that "It is confirmed that all treaties or agreements concluded between the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Korea on or before August 22, 1910 are already null and void." Also,'the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties' in 1969 states that "A treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third State without its consent." It is quite clear that the Gando Treaty is not valid in any sense.

The Gando issue, which includes a history of illegal acts of imperialism and the invalid treaties of imperial expansion, has yet to be resolved. What should we do about this issue? To cut the chain of conflict we should engage in a peaceful negotiation. Dealing with the Gando issue may appear to foster continued conflict, but in actuality it lays the groundwork for peace in Asia. Do we truly want peace in Asia? Resolving the Gando issue is an important step to building paths to peace in Asia, because of the interest and involvement of several important Asian countries in the region. For a true peace, we should eliminate the elements of conflict. The best way to do this is to have peaceful negotiations about important issues such as Gando. To achieve this goal, Asians should work together. The goal of peace in Asia is the primary reason why I have discussed the Gando issue and emphasized the importance of negotiations. Without a peaceful settlement of this issue, a peaceful Asia will not come.