Campaign for East Sea
Diplomatic efforts needed over naming issue
Korea is being cornered in another round of its “history war” with Japan, its closest yet sometimes furthest neighbor. This time, the countries will confront each other fiercely with regard to what to call the body of water between them. The battlefield will be Monaco where the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) will open a general meeting Monday for a five-day run to update its global charts.
As things stand now, Japan’s claim is gaining the upper hand, putting Korean diplomats on alert and forcing them to make last-ditch diplomatic efforts.
Korea has locked horns with Japan for decades over the name of the body of water, with Seoul calling it the ``East Sea’’ and Tokyo, the ``Sea of Japan.’’ The IHO adopted Sea of Japan in its first edition of ``Limits of Oceans and Seas’’ in 1929, when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule. The second and third editions, published in 1937 and 1953 respectively, used the same name as Korea was unable to reflect its contentions internationally owing to the colonial situation and the 1950-53 Korean War.
Korea raised an objection to the single use of Sea of Japan for the first time in 1992 and has campaigned for the adoption of the East Sea for the waters. As a result, the proportion of maps using both names rose from a meager 2.8 percent in 2000 to nearly 30 percent in 2009.
The international community appears responsive to Korea’s contentions, fully aware of the fact that the broad use of Sea of Japan is the mistaken legacy of Japan’s colonial period. Many historical documents show that the name East Sea had been more widely used until the early 1990s. The East Sea first appears in a historical document dating back to as early as 59 B.C. This compares with the first appearance of the name Sea of Japan in a publication by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci in 1602.
While it’s true Korea is more persuasive than Japan from the perspective of history, Japan seems to be ahead in the run-up to the IHO general meeting. Reports say many IHO members share the notion that they can’t put off publishing the fourth edition any longer after a wait of more than 50 years.
Now Korea is allegedly in no position of clinging to the concurrent use of both names. Rather, it will have to make a strategic choice: preventing the single adoption of the Sea of Japan in the IHO meeting. That’s because Japan may have secured 39 votes, the quorum needed for Japan to make its proposal adopted in the forum, given that the U.S. and other Western countries expressed support for the single name use in principle.
Against this backdrop, we see the pressing need for extraordinary diplomatic efforts. Considering that we won’t be able to make corrections for a considerable while should Japan’s proposal be adopted, our diplomats will have to address the latest issue with the utmost determination.