There is an international agreement not to attempt land grabs there for several reasons.
One, the scientific community led the way. (No one else was foolhardy or hardy enough. Really.) And they like their international cooperation. (And for good reason.)
Two, really. No one else. That is, no one single enterprise or any single country is going to be able to justify the resources for staking a claim there.
Thoughts -- If the global climate change turns the ice pack up there into climate water and deepens the oceans, should we forestall the landgrab by deciding ahead of time to move the displaced island nations to the land that would be exposed there?
(The idea should give us all pause about how willing we are to have to face such a question, and it would hardly seem fair to force millions of people who are acclimated to warm weather to adjust to the cold there.)
The Moon. (And, by extension, Mars.)
Again, there is an international agreement not to attempt land grabs.
Again, no single country really has the resources to permanently establish anything but scientific relics up there. Thinking carefully, unless we get some sudden advances in technology that far outstrip all the modern advances we've made in tech in the last 300 years, I'm not inclined to think we, as a race, have the tech to put any permanent settlements on the moon, period. This gravity well is really deep, and the problem of junk floating in the satellite regions of the earth is intractable.
The Liancourt Rocks.
No explicit international agreements, but those are seriously forbidding rocks. Neither of the two countries that have reasonable claim on them have been able to put a self-sustaining community on them over the last 1500 or so years.
My wife and kids were reading the newspaper yesterday, worrying about the possibility that those islands could spark a war. Also, there is the worry that there would be some who would question whether Japan could defend their claim under the current Japanese Constitution.
And there was the inevitable, "What could the Koreans be thinking?" from everyone but me, so I did some reading on the internet last night, to see if I could catch up.
Well, here is the history, as I understand it.
First, Ulleungdo. Used to be Usan-guk, a different country. Kim Isabu conquered it for Jijeung (of Silla, one of Korea's predecessors in interest) in about 500 AD. Goryeo assumed control of the island when he (they?) took over during the 900s.
Then the Korean government, because of some need to shore up its power during wars with Mongols and with Chinese factions, called all its people to the mainland. A hundred years or so passed.
Somewhere around the 1400s, Japanese fishermen started using it as a base of activities. After several decades, the Koreans returned while the Japanese fishermen were back home, and started settling back in. Diplomatic back and forth, and Toyotomi (am I getting this right?) in a move that was intended to be taken back after he conquered Korean on the road to conquering China, ceded the island to Korea. After getting spanked by the Korean navy, there was no room for further quibbling with Korea about Ulleungdo, and Korea was not silly enough to leave it uninhabited after.
Ulleungdo has a small neighboring island, now called Jukdo. Small, but the land is arable land, and you can build houses and other buildings on it without difficulty. It has been part of the community for a long time, people living on it, more-or-less self-sustaining. Maintaining a permanent settlement there is not a serious problem. Jukdo is just over a kilometer off the northern tip of Ulleungdo, to the east.
The Liancourt Rocks are known in modern Korea as Dokdo. Nearly a hundred kilometers to the south and east of Ulleungdo, I understand that they are visible from Ulleungdo when the weather is (very) clear. If I got the link right, you should be able to see that they are also about 180 km from the Oki Islands of Japan. In modern Japan, they are called Takeshima.
There are two islets. Together, they do not appear to have even half the surface area of Jukdo. It is mostly mountainous terrain, very steep. The land is sort of arable, has natural foliage and wildlife. But it is not the kind of place you could farm.
Korea sent a couple to live there in the 1940s. It is not sustainable, so they set up a support staff of 30 or more that cycles on and off the island, including policemen. Looking at the islands, I could well imagine that it would not have been possible to keep that couple living on those islands for very long prior to the invention of helicopters.
If you read a report in some part of Korean history about 20 families living on an island in this general area, not so very far to the north and east of Ulleungdo, you would not suspect it was these two islets. Unless, I suppose, there have been significant geological/ecological changes.
More police there than residents. Heh. The police and military are there for a reason, of course. Japan has continuously protested the Korean presence, and Korea does not trust Japan. (There was this war, you see.)
Japan, of course, wants to claim the islands in order to establish some bargaining power over the natural resources in the Japan Sea/East Sea.
But on what do they base their claims?
Well, you see, these islands have not been known by the same names throughout history. In fact, up until the late 1800s, there was a phantom island a bit north and east of Ulleungdo on many maps. (Apparently, British cartographers had at one point messed up the location of Ulleungdo.) This phantom island was shown about the same size as Ulleungdo, so, unless there have been some serious geographical changes, it could not have been a reference to Takeshima/Dokdo.
There are some historical references to the islands. Maybe. But it's hard to say for sure, because the Japanese have referred to Ulleungdo as Takeshima on occasion. And, it appears, have referred to the Liancourt Rocks as Matsushima.
Could the Koreans have been so sloppy? Well, yes. Some of the claims the material the Koreasn use to demonstrate their claim on Dokdo actually use the name Ulleungdo. Some others use the name, Usan or Usando, which has also been used for both Ulleungdo and Jukdo in the past. You can't depend on the name in the document.
If you read the historical reports available, interpreting by description more than by name, it appears that both Japanese and Korean fishers have used the islands as a base. Quite probably, I'm thinking, the "Japanese" pirates who plagued the costs of Korea and China for several hundred years from around the 1200s used the islands as bases, as well.
(Those pirates were initially primarily Japanese farmers and fishers having trouble making a living with all the feudalism going on at home, but after a few years, were mostly Chinese merchants trying to get around the draconian limits on commerce the Chinese government had put in place. Which latter fact did not deter China and Korea from using them as an excuse to attempt to invade Japan twice. Really large armies, Japan getting ready for the worst, and the typhoons hit. "Winds of the gods, again."
If you are wondering why the Japanese were so militant, you have to realize that they were on the receiving side, as well. Mongols and Koreans, then Chinese and Koreans. Sometimes you wonder how anyone in the far east ever had time to grow food.)
One Korean fisher who got blown off-course and went to ground on the Liancourt Rocks during the 1800s (if I recall correctly), then ended up somehow effectively captured by some Japanese, asserted that the Liancourt Rocks were Korean since a long time ago, and obtained unofficial recognition of his claim from some Japanese officials who weren't really sure what was being claimed. (It sounds like he got punished for it back home, too, but the suspended sentence was apparently meant to be a reward of sorts. Strange politics in Korea in the late 1800s.)
The one thing that is sure is that they were effectively uninhabited, and had been for a long time, when Japan was fighting the Russians in the late 1800s. Japan used the islets in some of their military activities in that war. After the war, when Japan was claiming Korea as a subject state, Japan decided it would be wise to annex the islands, and made claims to that effect.
Either the Koreans did not dispute the claims, or they did not feel they could at the time. (The emperor in exile apparently did, however, dispute the claims. And the de-facto government also disputed the claims eventually.)
By the way, many people in the far east view the Japanese involvement in World War II as simply an extension of the Japanese (supposed?) expansionism that the war with Russia was part of. That might help explain the distrust that remains in the air.
(All these wars. If you help someone attack someone else, why are you surprised when they attack back?)
So, when the boundaries were restored to pre-war boundaries by the treaties that ended WWII, Korea was hoping that pre-war meant a bit earlier in history than most westerners would consider.
Dokdo was restored to Korea in the first several drafts of the treaty ending the war in the far east, but not in the treaty which the combatants ultimately signed. (Korea was not a signing country.)
I think Judge Cookson's suggestion should be openly considered. (She was the judge that dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Korean against a Japanese elementary school in New Jersey for using a textbook that taught that Takeshima is Japanese territory.)
One island each.
But then what? The islands are not really inhabitable without support costs that well exceed the real return value, if this thing ever were to get settled.
I don't think it's a good solution, but it should be floated because the whole flap is not about islands.
(Just like with the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. -- Had the devil of a time getting that link in Google maps. One island is blacked out in the satellite view. US Military? -- Oh, Sakhalin, too.)
It's all about the resources in the ocean. Which really should be shared by all the neighboring countries. Otherwise, there will be more wars.
(No links because you should look the facts up yourself. And don't just stop at wikipedia, because it has been thrashed back and forth by editors on both sides. It is presently a little too Korean-biased, in my thinking. Who knows about tomorrow? Anyway, if you don't read it for yourself, you won't understand how things could be open to so many different interpretations.)