Committee in Virginia passes bill on East Sea

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Committee in Virginia passes bill on East Sea

A legislative committee for the U.S. State of Virginia’s Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday to describe the body of water between Korea and Japan as both the East Sea and the Sea of Japan in local public school textbooks.

It was a small victory in Korea’s efforts to get the world to stop using the Sea of Japan as the body of water’s official name. The bill, submitted by Democratic Senator David W. Marsden, was passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 6 to 0 by the Virginia Senate’s Education and Health Committee. It was one of three bills related to the dispute between Korea and Japan over the name of the sea.

Voice of Korean Americans (VOKA), a Korean-American association in Virginia, said in a press conference earlier that the Japanese Embassy in Washington hired a lobbyist to discourage approval of the bill. The embassy reportedly hired a Richmond-based law firm that has strong lobbying power in Virginia’s legislature, said VOKA.

Peter Y. Kim, the group’s president, formed the nonprofit organization last January to promote the use of the East Sea. The group has emphasized the issue is of importance to the Korean-American community in the state.

For more than a year, Marsden has led Virginia’s legislative efforts to add the East Sea designation in public school textbooks. A similar bill was turned down by Virginia’s Senate’s education committee last year. Marsden has said the bill “is not an attempt to change U.S. policy or the name of the ocean” but a means for the textbooks to reflect the controversy.

The United States currently uses the Sea of Japan as the official name. It supports a one-name policy for geographical designations. Korea says the Sea of Japan designation did not become common until the country was under Japanese colonial rule, at which time it had no ability to influence international affairs.

If passed by the Virginia Senate, the bill could go through the lower house of the legislature and take effect as early as July. Last year, school boards in some counties in Maryland decided to use textbooks that include both designations and teach the reason for having both names.

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