Thursday, March 19, 2020

Alexander Bukh's "These Islands Are Ours"

Alexander Bukh is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Japan's Identity and Foreign Policy: Russia as Japan's 'Other' (2009) and the producer and co-director of the documentary This Island Is Ours: Defending Dokdo/Retrieving Takeshima (2016).

Bukh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia is in a chapter that discusses the South Korean grassroots movement to protect Dokdo- two tiny islets in the Sea of Japan, administered by South Korea since early 1950s but claimed by Japan as its territory. Most of page 99 discusses the nature of Korean post-war national identity as one of the factors that shaped the “protect Dokdo” movement.

The Page 99 Test works only to a certain extent for These Islands Are Ours. The discussion of Korean national identity on this page shows that the book establishes a relationship between various movements that seek to protect or recover disputed territory and national identity. However, it is not clear from this page that the book as a whole is mostly interested in economic, political and social crises as factors that shaped the emergence of such movements.

These Islands Are Ours focuses on three territorial disputes in Northeast Asia which are one of the main sources of tension in the region. Escalation in such conflicts often stems from a widely shared public perception that the territory in question is of the utmost importance to the nation. While that's frequently not true in economic, military, or political terms, citizens' groups and other domestic actors throughout the region have mounted sustained campaigns to protect or recover disputed islands. Quite often, these campaigns have wide-ranging domestic and international consequences.

The main question These Islands Are Ours seeks to answer is why and how do territorial disputes that at one point mattered little, become salient? Focusing on non-state actors rather than political elites, it explains how and why apparently inconsequential territories become central to national discourse in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Islands Are Ours challenges the conventional wisdom that disputes-related campaigns originate in the desire to protect national territory and traces their roots to times of crisis in the respective societies. This book gives us a new way to understand the nature of territorial disputes and how they inform national identities by exploring the processes of their social construction, and amplification.
Learn more about These Islands Are Ours at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue