Japanese leader did not 'accept' South Korea's sovereignty over disputed isles

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A video of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been shared on YouTube with fake subtitles that falsely claim his government has "accepted" South Korea's sovereignty over a disputed island chain. The Korean subtitles and voiceover are not an accurate translation of Kishida's words, which were taken from a speech he gave that was unrelated to South Korea.

"Today, we received news that Japan accepted South Korea's ownership over Dokdo at the UN," said a narrator of the video, posted on March 18, referring to a set of disputed islets in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.

The claim was shared in a two-minute YouTube video with the title "Japan finally accepts Dokdo as South Korean territory", which has been viewed more than 400,000 times since it was posted on March 18, 2023.

The Liancourt Rocks, called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, remain a flashpoint in the relations of the two countries, both of which assert their sovereignty of the islets. The islands have been administered by South Korea since 1945, when Japan surrendered at the end of World War II (archived link).

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on YouTube. Captured May 22, 2023.

The video features footage of Kishida meeting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Tokyo on March 16, 2023, in which the two leaders agreed to thaw long-frozen ties and form a united front against regional challenges (archived link).

The voiceover in the video says: "On the 16th, President Yoon Suk Yeol held a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida. In addition to normalising trade and diplomatic ties between the two countries, the leaders also discussed Dokdo. When Yoon took up an intimidating stance, Kishida accepted Dokdo was South Korean territory."

Kishida's voice is not heard in the video, but the Korean voiceover and subtitles depict him as saying: "We have no other choice. We will no longer dispute that Dokdo is South Korean territory (...) We have faced the reality that we need to accept the truth in order to improve ties with South Korea."

Japanese media reported that Yoon and Kishida discussed the islets during their meeting, but Yoon's office denied the issue had been raised (archived link).

The clip was also shared on Facebook over two dozen times, including here, here, here and here.

However, the claim is false.

Kishida clip

A Google reverse image search found the clip of Kishida's speech in the misleading video corresponds to a video message his government posted on YouTube on December 14, 2021 (archived link).

In the original video posted by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kishida promoted his country's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council by touting Japan's contributions to the UN and its commitment to tackling Covid-19 and climate change. He made no mention of South Korea or any disputed territories in the video, which has English subtitles.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage posted by the Japanese foreign ministry (right):

Screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage posted by the Japanese foreign ministry (right).

The same video message was also posted on the Japanese Foreign Ministry's official website (archived link).

Other clips

The video also featured speeches by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Korean subtitles and voiceover in the video include fabricated messages that do not match the leaders' speeches.

The clip of Guterres corresponds to the UN Secretary General's video message on World Food Day 2021, posted on the UN's official YouTube channel on October 14, 2021 (archived link).

Below is a screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage posted by the UN (right):

Screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage posted by the UN (right)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is shown to criticise South Korea for improving ties with Japan, saying "many Chinese people live in South Korea" and that they "may vote in South Korea's next parliamentary election."

AFP found the footage of Xi was taken from a Bloomberg report published in August 2022, which in turn matched video of a speech he gave in October 2016 (archived links here and here).

Below is a screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage from the Bloomberg report (right):

Screenshot comparison of the falsely subtitled clip (left) and the original footage from the Bloomberg report (right)

Disputed isles issue

Both Japan and South Korea's governments both assert the islands are their "inherent territory" (archived links here and here).

AFP could not find any credible reports or announcements from either country that shows any change in either country's position on the islets.

"There is no likelihood that Kishida or the Japanese government has acquiesced to South Korea's ownership over Dokdo, as it has always been the Japanese government's uniform policy to maintain that Dokdo is Japan's unique territory that is currently being illegally occupied by South Korea," Professor Yuji Hosaka at Seoul-based Sejong University, told AFP on May 22, 2023 (archived link).

"In fact, Japan's education ministry recently authorised new elementary school textbooks in late March that explicitly defines the islets as Japan's territory, reflecting the position of the Japanese government," Hosaka said, referring to the Japanese government's decision on March 28 to greenlight schoolbooks that outlined the country's sovereignty claims over the islets (archived link).

Japan's Foreign Ministry released its Diplomatic Bluebook on April 11, weeks after Kishida and Yoon's meeting, that explicitly restated the country's sovereignty claims over the islets, to which South Korea's foreign ministry responded by summoning Japan's deputy chief of mission in Seoul to its offices (archived link).