[OUTLOOK]A Sea by Any Other Name to Our East

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[OUTLOOK]A Sea by Any Other Name to Our East

The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition has received several complaints and questions about the newspaper's usage of "East Sea (Sea of Japan)" to describe the body of water between Korea and Japan. A few months ago, there was also a flurry of calls about the International Herald Tribune's use of "Sea of Japan" in describing the body of water.

For our readers who are not familiar with the issue, the name of the sea is controversial. The two Koreas claim that "East Sea" is historically more accurate and neutral than the internationally recognized "Sea of Japan."

It is clear that the sea was called by a variety of names - East Sea, Oriental Sea, Sea of Choson, Sea of Korea - until the beginning of the 20th century, when "Sea of Japan" began to predominate. That usage was codified in 1929 by the International Hydrographic Organization, during the period of Japanese colonial rule in Korea. Korea, therefore, was not represented at the conference and had no opportunity to object to the adoption of the name.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Korea first addressed the issue with Japan in 1965 negotiations for a fisheries agreement. After failing to agree on a common name to use in the agreement text, the two countries compromised by using "East Sea" in the Korean version of the agreement and "Sea of Japan" in the Japanese text.

Seoul also raised the issue at the 1992 Sixth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names. The conference suggested consultations among the interested parties, but the Ministry says Japan has refused to enter into serious discussions.

At a conference of the International Hydrographic Organization in 1997, Korea asked that both "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" be used in the organization's basic geographical naming document. The organization had earlier agreed to a policy of recognizing multiple names when sharing countries do not agree on a common name.

It is not yet known whether the organization will recognize both names; a revision of the naming document expected in 1999 has been delayed, according to Seoul National University's Society for the East Sea.

Korea has made some progress in its efforts to convince private parties to acknowledge the controversy. The Web site of Rand McNally, a mapmaking firm, now refers to "East Sea," and a search for "Sea of Japan" leads to a cross-reference to "East Sea."

The National Geographic Society, a U.S. organization, said it has changed its usage in line with its policy of using the most commonly recognized name first but acknowledging disputes. It now uses "Sea of Japan (East Sea)."

Although the Foreign Ministry claims that the Encyclopaedia Britannica also uses both terms, the encyclopedia's Web site still refers to "Sea of Japan," but identifies the Korean and Chinese names for the sea ("Dong Hae" in Korean), and mentions in the encyclopedia entry that "Dong Hae" translates to "East Sea."

The issue even managed to make its way into the nuclear power plant project in North Korea. The North Koreans informed KEDO, the grouping of Korea, Japan, the United States and the European Union which is building the plants, that it wanted to name the two new reactors Dong Hae 1 and Dong Hae 2. While the Korean KEDO officials tried to hide their smiles, the Japanese representatives were not amused.

Our newspaper's usage was decided upon after a review of the history of the dispute and the recommendation of the Korean Foreign Ministry, which calls for both names to be used until the dispute is resolved.

Because we publish in Korea, we will use "East Sea" as the primary name, but because "Sea of Japan" is still the most common usage in English and is the name most familiar to English speakers, we are obliged to use that name when necessary to avoid confusing our readers. The issue is one of clarity; we do not reflect editorial opinions on our news pages.

In reply to readers who asked about the International Herald Tribune's usage, we should point out that the two newspapers are completely independent in their editorial policies. We have passed along information on the dispute to the IHT editorial staff in Paris, but the decision on usage is theirs.

It is interesting to note that, as a result of similar tension over the name of the Persian Gulf (or "Arabian Gulf," as many Arabs demand), the IHT now sidesteps the issue by referring to that body of water as simply "the Gulf."

Naming differences such as these are not unusual, although passions run especially high in this matter because of the animosity between Korea and Japan.

Although "English Channel" is the nearly universal usage in English, "La Manche" is equally widespread in French. The Rio Grande, along the southern U.S. border, is the river known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico. Perhaps it is lucky for political stability in North America that Americans, not always known for their international outlook, accept without complaint that along 2,600 kilometers of their shoreline lap the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.


The writer is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

by John Hoog

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