Cover of These Islands Are Ours by Alexander Bukh
These Islands Are Ours
The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia
Alexander Bukh


March 2020
280 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9781503611894



Territorial disputes are one of the main sources of tension in Northeast Asia. 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. Yet that's frequently not true in economic, military, or political terms. The tiny and remote islets, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, for instance, have no such value. Yet citizens and groups in both countries have mounted sustained campaigns to protect them as the heart of the nation. Similar movements are taking place throughout the region and have wide-ranging domestic and international consequences.

Focusing on non-state actors rather than political elites, Alexander Bukh explains how and why apparently inconsequential territories become central to national and nationalist discourse in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Islands Are Ours gives us a new way to understand the nature of territorial disputes and how they inform national identities by exploring their social construction, amplification, and ideological consequences.

About the author

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).

"In this refreshing book, Alexander Bukh marshals an impressive range of evidence and marries it to a theoretically nuanced approach to say something new and original. These Islands Are Ours will appeal to a wide audience that wishes to understand the micro-level processes by which the competing narratives and identities around these disputes are constructed."

—Hugo Dobson, University of Sheffield

"In this valuable contribution to our understanding of territorial disputes in Asia, Alexander Bukh does an admirable job of drawing attention to the internal dynamics in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This book will be of interest to IR and Asia specialists seeking to understand how 'national identity entrepreneurs' in domestic politics shape societal narratives of territorial disputes, and how also the shifting patterns of their entrepreneurship can be consequential in taking on and eliciting responses from the state in times of deep flux and beyond."

—Saadia M. Pekkanen, University of Washington