1) The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876

Relationships existed between the nations now called Japan and Korea since the 3rd century BC, yet the first peace treaty between the countries was not struck until 1876. Most often referred to as the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876, each nation gave it a different name: the Japanese call it the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity, while Koreans know it as The Treaty of Ganghwa Island, the site of many battles against invaders.

Why the need for treaties when both nations had co-existed since the 3rd Century? Because the growing influence of neighboring China loomed large over the Korean peninsula, and while Korea helped fill China’s treasury in return for protection from outsiders, citizens were forced to give up their independence in the bargain.

As time passed, Koreans grew restless. They needed protection but wanted to escape China’s iron grip. To do so, government officials aligned themselves with Japan against the interlopers. The Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876 was negotiated and signed to boost trade and form a partnership for both safety and economic gain.

2) The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905

Like the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1876, this 1905 accord, signed on November 17th, is known by several different names, though the one that stands out most is the Eulsa Unwilling Treaty. Also known as the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty or simply the Eulsa Treaty, it was named for the month in which it was signed.

This pact “deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty,” eliminating gains the two nations had made over the 29 years since the 1876 accord was negotiated, according to “The Japan Times.” Once the 1905 treaty was signed, says Russian writer Andrei Lankov, Koreans were stripped of home rule privileges under terms negotiated by peacekeepers after Japan won the Russo-Japanese War.

Since Korea had become a Japan protectorate, the nation was forced to live under military rule. Even the royal palace was surrounded by manned armaments day and night. Korea’s King Gojong refused to sign the Treaty of 1905, standing his ground despite pressure (hence the word “Unwilling” in the Korean version of the document). He turned that decision over to his top officials.

Japan identified five dignitaries willing to sign. They were richly rewarded by the Japanese, but having compromised their integrity for favors, from that day forward, they became known as “the five Eulsa criminals.” November 17th is still commemorated as The Day of National Disgrace in Korea.

3) The Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea

By the time negotiators from Japan and Korea sat down to sign The Treaty on Basic Relations, Korea was no longer a single kingdom. Following World War II, the nation was divided into the countries of North Korea and South Korea in 1945, and between 1950 and 1953, the Korean War was waged between the two territories.

To begin the process of shaping the Treaty on Basic Relations, Japan and South Korea declared every accord previously signed between the nations to be “null and void.” Drafted in three languages—-Japanese, Korean and English—-negotiations leading to this treaty were so arduous, it took 14 years to bring the document to the signing table on June 22, 1965.

Students of Korean history continue to debate the merits of this accord to this day. Yoo Euy-sang, Northeast Asian History Foundation Ambassador-at-large, became so fascinated with the treaty, he authored a book about it in 2016, calling it a puzzle and insisting that the Treaty on Basic Relations “should be re-estimated,” despite the passage of 53 years.

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