A signed letter makes a difference

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A signed letter makes a difference


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has signed legislation that requires state-approved textbooks to include “the East Sea” to refer to the sea between Korea and Japan. All legal procedures have been completed and the bill will come into effect in July, making Virginia the first state to require textbooks to include the name. Local Koreans rejoiced over the triumph.

Korean activists received plenty of support when the legislation was finalized. The Washington bureau of the JoongAng Ilbo, which has been sponsoring the movement, received various inquiries as well as congratulatory messages. As Japan continues to provoke Korea with its right-wing history textbooks, the triumph for Korean-Americans was a meaningful breakthrough.

The Korean-American community in Virginia is evaluating and reviewing the legislation. They have so far accumulated much experience and knowledge. I’ve also had the chance to attend the meetings, and interestingly, most Koreans thought that a document containing McAuliffe’s signature played a crucial role in the victory. At a press conference on April 3, Peter Kim, the president of Voice of Korean Americans, said that if it had not been for the original signed letter they received from McAuliffe assuring that he would support their cause, it would have been quite a challenge for the bill to pass.

For any election campaign, each vote counts, and at the end of last year, McAuliffe was desperate when he ran in a tight gubernatorial race. He visited a Korean restaurant in a neighborhood with a large Korean-American population and promised he would support the East Sea bill if he was elected. The Korean-American voters wanted something more solid, and the candidate’s camp provided a letter with his signature.

The document made a comeback when the East Sea bill was almost discarded by the state’s legislature. The Japanese Embassy lobbied extensively against it, and Governor McAuliffe interfered with the legislation. But the one-page letter changed the situation. When it was published in mainstream media, the governor had to stop interfering with the bill.

In any country, loose promises and pledges are made during election campaigns. As Koreans are a minority group in the United States, the opportunity to expand political influence was crucial. With a mid-term election slated for November, the campaign season will soon begin in America. Onlookers are missing a golden opportunity. Once a candidate is elected, it takes too much effort to change a policy. The Korean-American communities in the United States should list their demands and confirm support from candidates in return for a signed letter. With each success, the political power of Korean-Americans will expand the influence of the Republic of Korea. Having overcome Japan’s aggressive lobbying efforts, the East Sea textbook bill sets a valuable precedent.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 8, Page 30

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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