East Sea, Sea of Japan
The column "No sea change for East Sea" contributed by Andrew Salmon on May 1 in The Korea Times offers a thought-provoking perspective regarding the naming of the sea area between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago. However, I would like to comment on a few points about his column.
The 20-year campaign for the use of the name East Sea (this issue first started to be raised in international forums in 1992) has been focused on its concurrent use with the name "Sea of Japan," not on its replacement of Sea of Japan. This argument is based on the international norm, as set out in the form of resolutions commonly adopted by the United Nations and International Hydrographic Organization, which stipulates that if two or more countries share a given geographical feature for which they cannot agree on a common name, each of the names should be used to refer to it. Moreover, there are three examples of dual sea names in Europe, already endorsed by the IHO, such as the English Channel/La Manche.
Therefore, it is quite natural and reasonable that many national names authorities and private map-makers of the world have begun to listen to Korea's argument and change their policies. To name a few, recent decisions by the geographical names committees of Austria and Hungary and by the French publisher Larousse to write East Sea together with Sea of Japan are worthy of note.
As an academic trying to be logical, I believe that too much dependence on historical evidence could be misleading. Regarding this naming issue in particular, given the fact that we do not know the denominator, or the population in statistical terms, it is meaningless to state what percentage of old maps used this or that name. What the trends in old Western maps teach us instead is that various names were used, such as Eastern Sea, Oriental Sea, Sea of Korea or Sea of Japan, or no name was inscribed, and that therefore no name was established for this body of water.
The 18th IHO Conference fell short of our expectations but produced very meaningful outcomes. Japan submitted a proposal setting out the intention to continue the sole use of Sea of Japan at the IHO. The rejection of the proposal by all member states except Japan serves as a reconfirmation that there is a common understanding among IHO member states that the sole use of Sea of Japan in future IHO publications is problematic.
So what then should be the next step? Of course there is a need for continued dialogue between Korea and Japan. This is what IHO member states have clearly suggested. As long as Japan insists on the single use of its name, it could just result in "parallel realities." Nevertheless, Korea stands ready to engage in talks with Japan with an open mind.
Sixteen official participants were just some of the Korean delegates in Monaco last month. There were also representatives of civic groups, academics and young people who came from Korea and the United States at their own expense, to play a part in the campaign for the use of East Sea. There were both positive and negative views among delegates on their activities. But what was clear was their passion and love for the sea and its name. They obviously confirmed the basic principle of toponymy, saying that geographical naming by nature is a process of identifying a place and a representation of people's feelings toward the place.
Choo Sung-jae is a professor of geography at Kyung Hee University and currently vice president of The Society for East Sea. You may contact him at email@example.com.