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Govt must do more to make stance known amid anti-Japan movements

Publication Date : 09-02-2014


With anti-Japan activities by Americans of South Korean ancestry expanding, the Japanese government must be tenacious in making strong counterarguments and taking appropriate responses.

The Virginia state assembly has approved a bill requiring public school textbooks in the state to refer to the Sea of Japan also as the East Sea, the name the South Korean government insists be used. The bill, which will be enacted after it is signed by the governor, is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

The Sea of Japan is an internationally established name that has also been approved by the U.S. government. In a show of displeasure, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga naturally called the developments in Virginia “extremely regrettable”.

The population of Americans of South Korean ancestry residing in Virginia is the fifth largest among the 50 US states. The state assembly’s move was probably the result of strong lobbying of lawmakers by South Korean-related private organisations.

In the 1990s, the South Korean government started to urge the international community to call the body of water the “East Sea”, saying the name “Sea of Japan” became widely used during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. At present, Seoul asserts that both names should be used.

However, “Sea of Japan” did not become an international standard because of Japan’s colonial rule. According to the Foreign Ministry, a large majority of maps in European nations and the United States were using the Sea of Japan in the first half of the 19th century, before the Meiji Restoration. It is, therefore, impossible to accept South Korea’s unreasonable assertion, which is clearly an attempt to make the rest of the world dance to its tune.

‘Sea of Japan’ commonly used

Only the “Sea of Japan” is used in a collection of nautical charts by the International Hydrographic Organization, and the US Board on Geographic Names has it as the sole name for the sea.

Of course, some in the Virginia General Assembly opposed the bill, saying state governments should not be involved in debates over the historical geographical names of other nations.

The Japanese government was by no means standing idle in the face of the movement at the state assembly.

Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese ambassador to the United States, has sent a letter to the Virginia governor, expressing concern that the move could hinder economic relations with Japan, and met with him in person to urge him not to enact the bill. Japan also used lobbyists to try to sway the assembly to its side, but to no avail.

Across the United States, campaigns targeting Japan by South Korean-related private organisations pose a serious concern.

There is also a movement in the state of Maryland urging the use of both the Sea of Japan and the East Sea. In California, which has a large population of residents with South Korean origins, a statue dedicated to the so-called comfort women was erected last year. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, who is from California, has since visited the statue to offer flowers.

As the history of South Korean immigration to the United States is relatively short, such groups still have some allegiance to their origins. If they gain greater political say in the United States, they will be able to back the South Korean government, which is criticising Japan over historical issues.

The Japanese government, for its part, must make further efforts to make its stance known to the US Congress and public.


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