The 1909 Gando Convention (traditional Chinese and Japanese: 間島協約; ; pinyin: Jiāndǎo Xiéyuē; Korean: 간도협약/間島協約) was a treaty signed between Imperial Japan and Qing China in which Japan recognized China's claims to Jiandao, called Gando in Korean. Japan received railroad concessions in Northeast China ("Manchuria"). The treaty is disputed by some Koreans who maintain an irredentist claim on Gando.
Jiandao, or Gando as it is called in Korean, is today part of Northeastern China. Many different states and tribes succeeded one another in ruling the area during ancient times, to include Korean states such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Balhae, followed later by the Jurchen Jin Dynasty and the Khitans.
Traditionally, the area was inhabited by nomadic tribes from the north and west, as well as Koreans and Chinese fleeing unrest, famine, or other sociopolitical conditions in their home countries. Eventually, it and much of the rest of Manchuria came under the control of the Manchu and later the Qing Dynasty. Gando itself, as it shared a border with Korea, was a particularly high-frequency destination for Koreans fleeing worsening conditions in the late Joseon dynasty after the early 1800s.
By the middle and the end of the 1800s, Koreans formed a majority of the population living in Gando, and when the Qing opened up Manchuria to Han Chinese migration in the 1870s and Gando in 1881, the large number of Korean already living there raised a boundary dispute issue that had been negotiated in 1712. An ambiguity in the characters used, was subject to some speculation, which was deftly used by the Koreans living in Gando to claim that they were still on Korean soil.
While punishments for cross-border movement into northeast China by Han Chinese and Koreans by their respective governments (the Qing and Joseon) were on the books and Koreans apprehended in Gando were repatriated to Korea by Qing authorities, it is evident that these regulations did not deter people fleeing poor conditions, and they were able to make the claim in an attempt to escape relocation and punishment. The ambiguity in the original 1712 treaty gradually became official Joseon policy, but the issue itself did not come to a head until this time, when the Joseon Dynasty itself was in much turmoil and in no position to re-negotiate the boundary.
By the early 20th century, with increasing Japanese intervention in Korea, more Koreans fled to Gando, where they were sometimes welcomed by local Qing authorities, as a source of labor and agricultural skill. Additionally, as a result of this consolidation of Japanese control over Korea (which would culminate with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, with which Japan annexed Korea and began the Japanese occupation of Korea that ended in 1945), Korea was not able to renegotiate the renewed boundary issues with the Qing, which was having its own problems with Japanese and Western imperialism.
By 1905, the Korean Empire was effectively a Japanese protectorate (see Eulsa Treaty). As a result of the Russo-Japanese War, which ended in the same year, Korea was fully surrounded and occupied by Japanese troops. The negotiations to end the war resulted in the Portsmouth Treaty, which stated, "Japan possesses in Korea paramount political, military, and economical [sic] interests" and with the Russian concessions to Japan effectively ensured a Japanese sphere of influence in northeast Asia.
In 1907, Japanese forces infiltrated the rather porous border between Korea and China, but a few months later, the Japanese called the border issue "unsettled" because the majority of the population there was still ethnically Korean; as effective overlords of Korea, they claimed that Japan's jurisdiction over Korean subjects should extend into Gando, and invaded Gando in force in August 1907, which resulted in the Qing administration of China issuing a 13-point refutation asserting its claim to Jiandao.
As the Korean boundary dispute with China and the large population of ethnic Koreans in Gando was no secret to anyone in Northeast Asia, it is likely that the Japanese proposed the Gando Convention as a potential threat to continue pressing to claim Gando for Korea as a part of the Japanese Empire if the concessions by China to Japan listed in the Convention were not granted.
Treaties and agreements, while often lopsided in that era (see unequal treaties), often at least nominally included concessions for all parties signing such agreements. Japan agreed to recognize Gando as Chinese territory and to withdraw its forces from there back into Korea within two months of the date of the agreement. In return, China conceded exclusive railroad rights in Manchuria to Japan, among other things. The convention also contained provisions for the protection and rights of ethnic Koreans under Chinese rule.
The Korean claim is partly based on what is perceived (on the Korean side) to be an ambiguity in the 1712 boundary agreement between the Qing Dynasty (which ruled China at the time) and the Joseon Dynasty (which ruled Korea at the time); that actually did not become an issue again until about 150 years after the agreement was approved by both parties, when Manchuria and Gando was opened to Han Chinese migration by the Qing.
The other major part of the claim relies on the fact that by the time the Gando Convention was signed in 1909, the Korean Empire was not consulted and had no way of disputing the legitimacy of the treaty, as it was already a protectorate of the Japanese Empire and was essentially prevented from resolving or renegotiating the boundary dispute as an independent state.
The Gando Convention, like other unequal treaties (such as the Eulsa Treaty and the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910) dealing with Korean territory/governance or claims made by Imperial Japan, should thus be revoked and the boundary dispute rectified between Korea (though there is no stated consensus on which of the two current Koreas should be party to this) and the People's Republic of China (though the Republic of China, as the nationalist successor to the Qing Dynasty, may be a more legitimate party to this on the Chinese side as it still claims all of the territory held while the Qing Dynasty still ruled China as a sovereign state).
In the modern era
When the Japanese occupation of Korea ended in August 1945, the Soviet administration in the north of Korea and the American administration in the south of Korea hampered any unified Korean claim to Gando, and after the Korean War and the geopolitical situation it created, no serious Korean claim to Gando was made by either North or South Korea. In 1963, North Korea signed a boundary treaty with the People's Republic of China, which settled the boundary between the two at the Yalu/Amnok (Chinese/Korean names) and Tumen Rivers; this agreement primarily stipulated that three-fifths of Heaven Lake at the peak of Mt. Baekdu would go to North Korea, and two-fifths to China.
However, the boundary between North Korea and the People's Republic of China is still contested, in spite of the 1963 agreement. In response to North Korea's perceived lack of support in the Sino-Soviet split, China demanded that North Korea cede its portion of the peak of Mt. Baekdu to China, and between March 1968 and March 1969, a number of border clashes between North Korean forces and Chinese forces took place in the Mt. Baekdu region. Chinese demands for the rest of Mt. Baekdu were eventually dropped in 1970 in order to repair relations between North Korea and China. China has recognized North Korea's sovereignty over some 80% of the islands in the Yalu/Amnok and Tumen Rivers, and also accepted North Korea's control of some 90% of the mouth of the Yalu/Amnok River. While not openly discussed anymore, it would appear that the 1963 agreement is only something of a framework and not exactly a binding contract for either North Korea or China.
South Korea later recognized these agreements as delineating the Korean-Chinese boundary as well. Today, none of the governments involved (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, or China) officially support the claim that Gando is Korean territory or should be reinstated to either Korean state.
For years, the South Korean government avoided making any official statement regarding the Gando Convention. However, in 2004, the South Korean government issued the following statement: "Our government takes the position that the 1909 Gando Convention, signed by Japan illegally without Korea's consent, is null and void, to the extent that the Eulsa Treaty, which deprived Korea of its diplomatic rights in 1905, is a null-and-void treaty obtained through duress." On October 22, 2004, South Korean foreign affairs minister Ban Ki-moon also remarked on the voiding of the Gando Convention.
- Schmid, pg. 227. "Their position centered on an interpretation of the stele erected by Mukedeng more than two centuries earlier. The farmers contended that they had never crossed any boundary and were in fact within Choson territory. Their argument skillfully played off the ambiguity surrounding the character engraved on the stele to represent the first syllable in the name of the Tumen River. They argued that Qing officials had failed to distinguish between two different rivers, both called something like Tumen but written with a different character signifying the first syllable. One, the character on the stele, indicated earth; the second, a character not on the stele, signified what today is considered the tu for Tumen River, meaning diagram. The river behind which the Qing officials demanded the farmers withdraw was the latter. As argued by the farmers, though the pronunciation was nearly identical, the different characters signified two distinct rivers. The first Tumen River delineated the northernmost extreme of Choson jurisdiction, while a second Tumen River flowed within Choson territory. Qing authorities mistakenly believed the two rivers were one and the same, the petition suggested, only because Chinese settlers had falsely accused the Korean farmers of crossing the border. In fact their homes were between the two rivers, meaning that they lived inside Choson boundaries. The way to substantiate their claims, they urged, was to conduct a survey of the Mt. Paektu stele, for in their opinion the stele alone could determine the boundary."
- "Information in Jiandao." http://www.worldvil.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=China_Korea_History&wr_id=103&page=%7Ctitle=Information on Jiandao
- Text of the Portsmouth Treaty. New York Times, 1905 October 17. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1905/10/17/101829875.pdf
- Border Disputes with China and North Korea. http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/806
- Border Disputes with China and North Korea. http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/806
- Chae-Jin Lee, op. cit., p. 100. Cited by http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/806
- (in Korean) 반기문 외교, “간도협약, 법리적 측면에서 무효”