It is a universally-acknowledged principle of international law that sovereignty claim over disputable sea areas, islands or lands made by the head of a country is not valid. Therefore, the claim made by the head of a country is usually aimed at the domestic politics.
On August 10, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak set foot on the Dokdo Island (also called Takeshima Island in Japan) actually controlled by South Korea to declare sovereignty over it, becoming the first South Korean president in office to land on the disputable island.
Claiming sovereignty is a diplomatic conduct. According to the international law, that the head of one country visits disputable sea areas, islands or lands in person cannot be regarded as sovereignty declaration mutually recognized by both sides of the dispute, since the other claimant country also wants to but fails do the same thing due to the fact the disputable place is actually out of its control.
Only when the head of a country symbolically inspects lands and islands without owners or disputable places and the other side does not claim sovereignty over them actively or effectively, can the action of claiming sovereignty be legally effective. Now that landing on the disputable land is not valid according to the international laws, why did Lee Myung-bak still do it?
With only half a year left in his term, Lee’s landing on the island is aimed at obtaining political benefits for the future. Recently, Japan's White Paper on National Defense, despite of other countries' oppositions, still includes disputable islands into Japan's territory once again. In South Korea, parties out of office blame Lee for his policies to flatter Japan. What’s more, scandals of Lee's relatives and subordinates have also been revealed. Lee’s visit to the island is actually an “eye-catching” way aimed at obtaining political benefits for his party in the upcoming general election.
Lee's landing on the island has made the Japan-South Korea relations drop to the freezing point and Japan has recalled its ambassador to South Korea. Once Japan submits the case to the international court, the issue will be internationalized, which will not be good for South Korea to maintain the island sovereignty which has already been under its control.
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