Japan steps up protests of U.S. bills on ‘East Sea’

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Japan steps up protests of U.S. bills on ‘East Sea’

The Japanese government has stepped up lobbying efforts in the United States, this time to block a bill in New York that would enable the use of the term “East Sea” to describe the body of water between Korea and Japan.

New York legislators from both houses earlier this month in Albany introduced a proposal calling for the joint use of “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” in future school textbooks, which follows the passage of a similar bill in Virginia. In retaliation, Ambassador Sumio Kusaka, the consul general of Japan in New York, sent letters protesting the bill to the state’s senators and assemblymen.

His correspondence, dated Feb. 11, the day after the press conference introducing the “East Sea” bill penned by Democratic State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblyman Edward C. Braunstein, called the proposal unjust and noted that the U.S. State Department and the United Nations use the Sea of Japan as their sole designation.

The letter further argued that the term “Sea of Japan” was established and came into use in the late 18th century and early 19th century. This is despite numerous maps, including English-language maps, that indicate otherwise. An 18th century English-language map by profile cartographer Thomas Jeffereys, for example, labels the body of water as the “Sea of Corea.”

The lawmakers’ offices said they had received numerous emails from the Japanese protesting the bill following Stavisky and Braunstein’s press conference.

One email, according to the offices, said that the Korean propaganda movement to change the designation from the Sea of Japan to the East Sea “will bring about worldwide conflict” and demanded the bill be discarded.

“Judging that we receive emails nearly identical in content and format every day, we presume that Japanese extremist organizations are encouraging these emails,” said an official from the lawmakers’ office.

Braunstein’s office indicated, however, that Japan’s lobbying efforts would not deter “our determination to pass” the East Sea bill. It added that “support and participation from the Korean-American community and [those] associations will be necessary” for the bill’s successful passage.

The Korean-American community also plans to step up efforts to promote its campaign for the joint use of “East Sea” in school textbooks across the United States.

New Jersey is proposing a similar bill, one that calls for the body of water between Korea and Japan to be labeled as the “East Sea,” so long as it doesn’t incur additional expenses.

The Korean government has previously pointed out that the term “East Sea” has been used in Korea for more than 2,000 years and is illustrated in ancient documents. The Sea of Japan first appeared on international maps during the colonial period, after it was published in a book by the International Hydrographic Organization in 1929, when Korea was occupied by Japan and powerless to contest it.

The United States currently uses the “Sea of Japan” as the official label for that body of water, supporting a one-name policy for geographic designations.

Despite Tokyo’s efforts to block the law establishing the use of both the “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan,” Virginia’s House of Delegates approved the milestone legislation earlier this month.

The Japanese government hired McGuireWoods, a leading lobbying firm in Richmond, Virginia, signing a contract reportedly worth $75,000 to block the bill’s passage. Furthermore, the Japanese Embassy met with Virginia’s governor in protest, emphasizing that Japan is one of the state’s largest trading partners and implying that the passage of the bill could harm that relationship. The Japanese government has also engaged in additional lobbying efforts to keep the activities of the Korean community in the United States in check.

Many Korean groups and associations have been actively spreading awareness about the controversies surrounding “comfort women,” women and girls from Korea and other Asian nations who were forcibly recruited into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

BY LEE SANG-RYEOL, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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