Photo via ohkpop
by CRYSTAL KIM
The “East Sea” naming dispute between South Korea and Japan has been making waves on the web, but the United States is trying to steer clear of the ongoing squabble.
“It is longstanding United States policy to refer to each sea or ocean by a single name,” said Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in a statement. “Concerning the body of water between the Japanese archipelago and the Korean Peninsula, longstanding U.S. policy is to refer to it as the ‘Sea of Japan.’”
The administration’s desire to remain uninvolved in the naming dispute doesn’t surprise David Kang, director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California.
“The U.S. has a policy of not taking sides, especially between two allies, and in this case the U.S. has held to that principle,” said Kang. “It was actually not realistic that the U.S. would take the side of the ROK over Japan … Can you imagine the outrage in Japan if the U.S. had decided to bow to Korean pressure?”
The longstanding argument concerns the reference to the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese archipelago as the “East Sea” versus the “Sea of Japan.”
Proponents for the “East Sea” name signed a petition titled “The East Sea – a FALSE history in our textbooks!” that has generated more than 102,000 signatures on the White House website. Those in opposition signed a petition titled “Sea of Japan -the authentic history in our textbooks! We are teaching our children the authentic history, so why change?” which received 29,160 signatures. Any petition on the White House website which generates more than 25,000 signatures requires a response.
The conflict surrounding the official labeling of the “East Sea” reflects the troubled historical issues and relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan – issues that are straining relations even today.
USC’s Kang defended Koreans who are continuing to fight for the “East Sea” name.
“While Koreans often get blamed for being ‘emotional’ over the issue, the Japanese are just as emotional about these issues,” he said. “That is, these are not rational issues that can somehow be decided by looking at the facts: they are psychological issues where two countries want to name something according to their own long-standing practice — of course that’s emotional.”