East Sea law is signed in Virginia

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East Sea law is signed in Virginia

The governor of the U.S. state of Virginia signed a law calling for the body of water between Korea and Japan to be known as both the East Sea and Sea of Japan in state school textbooks despite frantic Japanese lobbying to block passage of the law.

The “East Sea” bill was signed quietly into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Monday, escaping initial media notice. All textbooks approved by Virginia’s Board of Education will have to comply after July 1.

Virginia was the first U.S. state to pass such legislation on the designation of the sea, and it will lend momentum to similar bills in states with active Korean communities like New York, New Jersey and California.

Grass-roots efforts by Virginia’s sizeable Korean-American community led to the law. It was championed by the Voice of Korean Americans, a local nonprofit organization headed by Peter Kim, a resident of the state.

In early March, the bill passed the state’s lower chamber, called the House of Delegates, after being approved in February by Virginia’s Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. McAuliffe had to approve the legislation within the next 30 days for it to take effect.

Japan’s government belatedly tried to counter the movement by hiring McGuireWoods, a leading lobbying firm in Richmond, Virginia, last year. It reportedly signed a contract for $75,000 to block the bill’s passage.

Officials from the Japanese Embassy in Washington met with McAuliffe and emphasized that Japan is one of the state’s largest trading partners, implying that passage of the bill could harm that relationship. McAuliffe had pledged to support the East Sea legislation in his last campaign for governor.

“All legal procedures are completed with the governor’s signature,” Voice of Korean Americans head Kim told reporters. “This is the first case in the U.S. of a law being passed to include the name East Sea in textbooks.”

Kim added that the Korean-American community had kept in touch with the governor’s office over the past month in regards to the signing of the law and plan a celebratory event in Annandale, Fairfax County, which is Kim’s hometown.

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

Korea claims the Sea of Japan designation did not become common until after the International Hydrographic Organization published the “Limits of the Oceans and the Seas” in 1929. At the time, Korea was under Japanese colonial rule.

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

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