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South Korea Calls for Sea (Name) Change

Should the name be changed ?


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NeutralCitizen

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A diplomatic spat between Japan and South Korea over what to call the sea that divides them is set to make waves at an otherwise staid meeting of maritime technocrats this week at a seaside auditorium 6,000 miles away in Monaco.

At issue is whether the world's hydrographers—makers of official nautical maps—continue to call the body of water in question the "Sea of Japan," as Tokyo would like, or also label it the "East Sea," as Seoul prefers.

"We expect a heated discussion" at the International Hydrographic Organization conference, says Kang Jeong-sik, deputy director general of South Korea's foreign ministry.

South Korea is taking its case to the Riviera with the third-largest delegation after those of the U.S. and the U.K.: 16 history professors, diplomats and maritime officials. (Japan's delegation will number nine.)

"Heated" isn't normally a word used for the meetings held every five years by this obscure intergovernmental group. The five-day meeting, which Prince Albert II of Monaco will open on Monday morning, will be attended by more than 300 delegates from 80 member states, headed by their chief hydrographers. Their main job is to ensure their countries' charts and maps are up to date and compliant with international standards.

The agenda is largely uncontroversial, covering issues such as adjusting nautical-chart standards for electronic display systems. Participants will tour hydrographic surveying vessels from several countries, which have sailed in for the occasion. The USNS Heezen and its Russian counterpart, the Donuzlav, will host receptions. "To put it simply, it's a very nerdy world," said a Japanese hydrographer.

Except when old Asian rivalries enter the discussion. Officials from both Japan and South Korea admit that their disagreement, which dates to the early 1990s, is more about national pride than national security or economic interests. The name has no effect on control of the water, which is shared between the two countries, along with North Korea, China and Russia.

Yet their disagreement has managed to create big headaches for the IHO, blocking badly needed revisions to a key document titled "Limits of Oceans and Seas." Better known as S-23 after its reference number, it is a map that shows oceanic boundaries and names and is the basis for nautical charts drawn up all over the world.

The IHO has called the water in question the Sea of Japan since the first edition of S-23 was created in 1929. But South Korea, arguing that this is a legacy of Japan's ill-fated imperialistic ambitions, has been pressing the IHO to include a second name: East Sea, which he says has been used by Koreans for more than 2,000 years.

Lobbying for the status quo, Japan has accused its rival of bringing politics to what should be a technical organization devoted to maritime safety. Tokyo claims the sea has been known as Sea of Japan since the early 17th century, long before Japan colonized Korea in 1910.

Member countries, including Japan and South Korea, agree that revising S-23 is an urgent task. The current edition, dating to 1953, contains such obsolete place names as Siam, Burma and Yezo (now known respectively as Thailand, Myanmar and Hokkaido, a Japanese island). It lacks oceanic names now commonly accepted, such as the Southern Ocean for the waters encircling Antarctica.

There are other naming disputes, including potentially explosive ones over the Persian Gulf, the South and East China Seas. But unlike in the Korea-Japan dispute, none of the countries involved has brought a case to the IHO in recent years, officials say. The IHO can't make any changes to S-23 unless a majority of nations agree, which is unlikely as long as Tokyo and Seoul disagree.

To make their cases to the IHO, both countries have prepared official brochures—South Korea in eight languages, Japan in six—packed with old maps and historical documents. Each side describes the other's argument neatly, in two words: South Korea says Japan's is "totally untrue"; Japan says Korea's is "wholly invalid."

After Seoul announced that its research had found the name "Sea of Korea" was used in 66% of 228 maps it examined at the U.S. Library of Congress, Japanese officials spent four months at the library, uncovering 1,728 maps showing the sea. Japan's conclusion: "Sea of Japan" was used on 77% of them.

The combing continues: Just days ago, Kim Mun-gil, a professor emeritus at South Korea's Busan University of Foreign Studies, alerted the Korean media to a nautical map made in 1646 by a British explorer that used the term Sea of Korea. "It is significant to show that the name was widely used in the world history," he said.

Other IHO members have grown weary of the quarrel. "Intense lobbying" by the two countries has repeatedly thwarted the attempt to revise S-23, says Michel Huet, assistant director of the International Hydrographic Bureau, which administers the IHO out of Monaco.

In 2002, the group's secretariat proposed revising the map with a blank for the sea, to be filled in once the two nations reached agreement. Japan managed to kill the proposal before a vote.

At the previous meeting, in 2007, the secretariat vainly suggested dividing the water in two. At this week's meeting, members will be asked for ideas on how to move forward.

But a majority of the member nations request "the two countries be asked to find a common solution before the rest of the group consider this matter," says Mr. Huet.

The tiff has grown more acrimonious with each IHO meeting even as the relationship between the two nations has continued to improve—as demonstrated by the ubiquitous Korean soap operas on Japanese TV and the appearance of Japanese food on Korean tables.

Since the 2007 meeting, Korean activists have raised money to publish advertisements in international newspapers drawing attention to the naming issue. In Japan, Masao Shimojo, a professor of history at Takushoku University, worries Korea is spending more, and spending it more wisely.

"The Korean government has been very strategic but [the] Japanese government has no comprehensive policy," he says. The choice of a name could affect more than words on a map, he argues: It could influence the outcome of a territorial dispute over an island—known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea—and the resources around it.

Japanese officials have likewise enlisted historians and lobbied the international media.

"We can't be too optimistic," said Akihiko Sunami, director of the foreign ministry's Specialized Agencies Division. "But whatever assertion the Koreans make, we will keep on pressing our basic argument that there is absolutely no need or grounds for changing the name. "



 

Korean

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It's pretty simple. The west side of the sea is called the East Sea. The east side is called the Sea of Japan. Everyone goes home happy, problem solved.
 

Raphael

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^But we're talking about in English. There can only be one name designated per language.
 

Korean

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^But we're talking about in English. There can only be one name designated per language.
That's how Google Earth does it right now. The left side of the sea is labeled the "East Sea". The right side is labeled the "Sea of Japan".
 

Chinese-Dragon

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What is the point of trying to change all these names?

Everytime something happens in this area, the international media (CNN/BBC etc) ALWAYS refer to it as the Sea of Japan.
 

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