U.S. moves to neutral on East Sea vs. Sea of Japan

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U.S. moves to neutral on East Sea vs. Sea of Japan

NEW YORK - A grassroots organization of Korean-Americans who campaigned to designate the name of the body of water bordered by Korea, Japan and Russia as the “East Sea” alongside the more commonly used “Sea of Japan,” has reached the ears of the U.S. Congress and elicited a formal response that Washington should be neutral.

Republican Representative Donald Manzullo, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said “the United States should not lean to either side.”

Manzullo met with a spokesman of the campaign in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, local time.

This is the first time that the U.S. government has formally expressed that there is need to take a middle stance. Manzullo also stated he is curious for what reason the U.S. government has chosen to use the name “Sea of Japan” and that he will further inquire why such a position was taken.

In August 2011, the United States confirmed that it considers the body of water to the east of the Korean Peninsula the Sea of Japan, angering many Koreans. In response, the U.S. government asked the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) to consider using East Sea as an “alternate name” for the Sea of Japan in the appendix of its internationally recognized publication later that month.

Korean-Americans in response mobilized a grassroots movement across the United States to correct the appellation of the East Sea. In New York, Korea Daily, the U.S. JoongAng Ilbo, propelled a petition which gathered 12,411 signatures and received support from over a hundred organizations and businesses in the state.

The campaign’s delegation, which included the head of the New York Korea Daily, Kwon Tae-jung, handed over the signed petition to Manzullo and Democratic Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, also a member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

“I understand everyone’s perspective and support it,” Representative Faleomavaega said regarding the name of the East Sea, and expressed that he “had no idea that so many Korean-Americans considered the importance of its appellation.”

Kim Dong-suk, founder and board member of the Korean American Voters’ Council, who supported the petition, said, “Because we conveyed the intent of some 13,000 members of the Korean community, the U.S. Congress shifted.”

Kim further stated, “It is very exceptional that U.S. Congress leaders, who have to take into consideration Japan’s position and also the upcoming elections, to reveal such a definitive stance on the East Sea.”

Koreans have called it the East Sea for the past 2,000 years, according to historical documents. Seoul has maintained that the IHO should use its preferred name together with the Sea of Japan. Meanwhile, the IHO has stuck to the name Sea of Japan (or Japan Sea) since it published the first edition of “Limits of Oceans and Seas,” which standardized global oceanic names, in 1929.

By Lee Jong-haeng [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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