Law would label ‘East Sea’ in Virginia textbooks

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Law would label ‘East Sea’ in Virginia textbooks

A bill requiring new school textbooks to simultaneously refer to the body of water between Korea and Japan as the “East Sea” and the “Sea of Japan” was approved on Monday by an education panel in the Virginia House of Delegates, despite fierce lobbying efforts by the Japanese government to halt it.

In an 18 to 3 vote, the panel passed the bill, which was actively supported by the Korean-American community in the U.S. state.

Its passage comes in spite of the Japanese Embassy’s desperate attempts to stymie the legislation. In December, the embassy hired a team of lobbyists from?McGuireWoods, a leading lobbying firm in Richmond, signing a contract reportedly worth $75,000 to maintain the use of the “Sea of Japan” designation in textbooks.

It has also pushed new state Governor Terry McAuliffe to veto the bill.

Ahn Ho-young,?the Korean ambassador to Washington, met with lawmakers and Governor McAuliffe last week in Richmond to speak on the issue.

McAuliffe, known to be close to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pledged during his campaign that he would make sure textbooks used both names to refer to the East Sea. The governor’s spokesman affirmed recently that McAuliffe would sign the bill into law if it passed the legislature this week.

Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, also met with McAuliffe and Virginian lawmakers last month to pressure them to stop the bill, emphasizing that Japan is one of the state’s largest trading partners.

In December, Sasae sent a letter to McAuliffe expressing opposition to the proposal and threatening “that the positive cooperation and the strong economic ties between Japan and Virginia may be damaged if the bills are to be enacted.”

The letter noted that Japan has been the second-largest source of direct foreign investment in Virginia and is a major export partner of the state.

For more than a year, Virginia’s Democratic Senator David W.?Marsden, backed by a group of bipartisan?lawmakers, led the state’s legislative efforts to add the East Sea designation to public school textbooks. And last month, the Virginia Senate’s Education and Health Committee unanimously passed the bill.

The sizeable local Korean-American community, led by Voice of Korean Americans (VOKA), a local nonprofit organization promoting the use of the term “East Sea,” has emphasized the importance of the issue to its community in the state.?

The United States currently uses the Sea of Japan as the official name of the body of water. It supports a one-name policy for geographical designations.

Korea says the Sea of Japan designation did not become common until it was under Japanese colonial rule, at which time it had no ability to influence international affairs.?

The bill is set for a vote during a plenary session at the Virginia House of Delegates later this week.

The Washington Post published an editorial on Monday that questioned whether “elected officials should be drawing textbook maps or writing lesson plans,” including the “body of water between Japan and Korea.”

However, the newspaper said, “We also think Americans can benefit from learning about the history of Japanese imperialism in Asia.”?


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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