Comfort women focus of New York legislation

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Comfort women focus of New York legislation

New York legislators are seeking to push forward the first education bill that would require instructors to teach students about the history surrounding the women and girls forcibly recruited as prostitutes by the Japanese military during World War II, who are more commonly referred to as “comfort women.”

New York Senator Tony Avella, who has been an active voice on the issue, proposed a resolution on Monday to promote state textbooks that argue that imperialist Japan’s coercion of women into sexual slavery is a crime against humanity. If passed, the bill could take effect as early as July. This comes as New York legislators from both houses called for the joint use of “East Sea” to describe the body of water between Korea and Japan.

The U.S. House and Senate recently passed a 2014 spending bill to which a nonbinding report was attached that urged the U.S. secretary of state to call on Japan to formally apologize to the victims the country forcibly recruited as sex slaves during the war.

The bill was signed into law last month by U.S. President Barack Obama. The report also called on Tokyo to heed Resolution 121, passed by the House of Representatives in 2007, which stipulates that the Japanese government admit to its wartime transgressions and officially apologize to the women involved.

Virginia’s legislature last week also passed legislation to include the joint use of “East Sea” alongside the “Sea of Japan.”

And the momentum from that case appears to be spreading to neighboring New York and New Jersey.

Lawmakers and leaders of the Korean-American community came together Monday in support of the bill, sponsored by New York Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, which requires all new state textbooks published after July 1 to adopt the use of East Sea and the Sea of Japan.

They were joined in Albany, New York, by Korean community and civic group leaders, including Kim Dong-chan, the executive director of the Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE).

The bill justified that “the commonly used term ‘Sea of Japan’ originates from the era of Japanese rule over the Korean Peninsula.”

It further stated that the National Geographic Society has included both names on its maps since 1999 and that “the bill will align New York’s textbooks with a growing international movement to recognize both names as acceptable.”

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

“Understanding the historical and political implications of this conflict and acknowledging the East Sea as well as the Sea of Japan is an important lesson for New York students as they learn to be conscientious global citizens,” Senator Stavisky, who represents more than 175,000 Asian-Americans, said in a statement.

“New York State students should be taught that the Sea of Japan is not a universally accepted term,” Assemblyman Braunstein added, “and that there is legitimate international debate about whether the East Sea is a more appropriate name for that body of water.”

They pointed out that the sole use of “Sea of Japan” is unjust because it was widely established in a 1929 publication of the “Limits of the Oceans and the Seas” by the International Hydrographic Organization, released while Korea was under Japanese occupation and not in a position to contest it at the time.

They also referred to the passage of the milestone bill in Virginia as an inspiration.

Virginia’s House of Delegates last Thursday passed legislation that requires the joint use of East Sea in state textbooks. It was approved last month by the state’s Senate.

The victory for the Korean community came despite continuous efforts from the Japanese Embassy last month to hire a team of lobbyists to block the bill in Virginia.

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