[TODAY]Pushing for a sea change in Asia

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[TODAY]Pushing for a sea change in Asia

The water of the East Sea washes the shores of the Korean Peninsula, Russia and Japan, and it belongs to all three. This is why Koreans call it the East Sea, referring to it by location and not by possession. Japan, however, calls this sea its own and has accordingly named it the Sea of Japan. If the Japanese claim is true, then thousands of Koreans are enjoying their vacations right now on the coast of a body of water that belongs to Japan.

Last week, a seminar was held in Vladivostok in which geographers from North and South Korea, Russia, China, Britain and France gathered to find a way to give the sea a single name. The seminar was held jointly by the Pacific Geographic Institute, Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences and Korea's Soceity for the East Sea. It was the first time that a Russian government organ held such a meeting. Strangely, Russia had shown little interest until now as to whether the sea, which it too used to call the East Sea, is called the East Sea or the Sea of Japan.

The seminar adopted a resolution urging mapmakers and new media to use both "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" in accordance with the general rule of international cartography until the concerned parties reach an agreement on a single name. This resolution signifies that the conflict between the names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" has finally reached a turning point.

The fact that the Japanese Consulate General in Vladivostok lodged a protest to the Russian authorities about the resolution shows the shock on the Japanese side.

Japan has avoided even discussing the issue by claiming that Europeans had used the current name for the sea since the 17th century, that the popularization of the name is irrelevant to Japan's colonial rule over Korea and that the naming of a sea is a political issue that cannot be decided by a seminar of experts.

Japan's favorite evidence is the map of Matteo Ricci, the Italian Jesuit missionary, and the journal of the French explorer Jean Francois de La Perouse. Matteo Ricci marked the East Sea as "Sea of Japan" on his world map that he published in 1602 after his travels in China. La Perouse also wrote that name in his travel report after exploring the Korean coast of the East Sea in 1787. His report was instrumental in making the name "Sea of Japan" popular in the Western world.

However, there is a document that Japan has intentionally ignored. In the 13th century an Italian explorer, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, kept a travel log in which the sea east of the Korean Peninsula is referred to as the "East Sea." This is the earliest Western document mentioning the sea.

The number of times "East Sea" appears on maps made since the 17th century when Europeans started exploring the world in earnest overwhelms that of the "Sea of Japan."

The important thing, however, is the current trend. Rand McNally, a U.S. map company, Microsoft and the humanitarian organizations of the United Nations all mark the sea as the "Sea of Japan (East Sea)." The map in the 1998 Encyclopedia Britannica marks the part of the sea closer to Korea as the "East Sea (Sea of Japan)" and the part closer to Japan as the "Sea of Japan (East Sea)."

The statement of the chairman of the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names to withhold Japan's opposition and support the Korean position on the issue and the fact that the National Geographic Society decided in 2002 to use both names is a victory of the "East Sea" over the 'Sea of Japan."

Influential media such as the New York Times now use both names and CNN abandoned its practice of using the "Sea of Japan" and does not mark the sea when it shows a map of the area. It will probably be only a matter of time before CNN, too, uses both names.

Japan is being increasingly isolated on the issue. The argument that the "Sea of Japan" should be used because the Europeans started using it first can no longer stand in face of the international consensus being formed to use both names. Korea's primary objective of having both the names used will not be that difficult to achieve if we are more active in convincing the world's main media companies and mapmakers of the justice of this argument.

One day, it might be possible that the three countries of Korea, Russia and Japan may even reach an agreement on a neutral value-free name such as the "Sea of Friendship" or the "Blue Sea." However, that would be in the distant future. Before that, we must try to put "East Sea," which appears in the first line of our national anthem, on all the important maps of the world, even side by side with "Sea of Japan."


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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