Tag Archives: gay


Dr. Esther Oh’s Column: LGBTQ Youth, The Challenges of Coming Out


In 2000, Hong Seok-cheon was at the height of his career. The South Korean actor had starred in the wildly popular sitcom Three Guys and Three Girls, was host of a primetime variety show and even had his own radio program. Then came a surprise announcement: while appearing on a Korean talk show, Hong revealed he was gay.

In South Korea, the response to the actor’s coming out was immediate and harsh. He was fired from his hosting and acting gigs and received multiple death threats. As he later told the Los Angeles Times in 2012, Hong struggled with the fallout: he started to drink heavily and at one point contemplated suicide. Still, after years of hiding in the closet, something clicked for the actor, who was the first South Korean celebrity to openly acknowledge he was gay. “If I think I’m right, even though other people are against something, I get upset. And I fight,” he told the Times.

For Kim Ji-hoo, a well-known fashion model in South Korea, the fight was short-lived. In 2007, Kim came out as gay. He was immediately fired from all his upcoming fashion shows and TV appearances. Two years later, the 23-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself at his home, leaving behind a suicide note stating that he was lonely and in a difficult situation.

Spreading awareness about gay identity in South Korea’s conservative society is not easy; homosexuality is neither openly discussed nor acknowledged. Even today, years after Hong’s admission and Kim’s death at such a young age, identifying as gay is still considered taboo in South Korea—and among the Korean community in the U.S. as well.

In my line of work in the medical profession, I continue to come across Asians from the older generation who tell me they believe homosexuality is caused by a mental illness. Others with strong religious beliefs share that they cannot support their gay loved ones because homosexuality is “a sin.”

Just like any minority in any society, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community often experiences prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence. Some LGTBQ members are even shunned from their religious groups or families. For those living in an already conservative culture such as that of South Korea, or for Korean Americans here in the U.S., this often causes confusion, loneliness, stress and guilt. This exacerbates the already high rates of mental health issues within the LGBTQ community.

Consider these statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

LGBTQ adults are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression compared with the general population, while LGBTQ youth (ages 10-24) are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ adults are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Twenty to 30 percent of LGBTQ individuals abuse drugs and alcohol, compared with about 9 percent of the general population.

Since May is Mental Health Month, and June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Pride Month, I write this column in the hopes of encouraging those who identify as LGBTQ and are struggling with stress, depression, anxiety or relationship conflicts to not grapple with such issues alone. There is no issue too big or too small to discuss with a therapist or psychiatrist. Whether it’s simply talking about your emotions, developing coping skills to manage stress or getting something off your chest, a mental health provider can serve as an important source of support and help for you.

Since having a strong support system is invaluable, I also hope this column encourages parents and family members to keep the lines of communication open. According to NAMI, LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared with those whose families are accepting of their sexual orientation or choice to identify as a particular gender. No matter how you feel internally, it’s important to remain loving, respectful and empathetic.

Coming out can be a challenging and stressful process for anyone. The journey can be especially difficult when those around you don’t understand who you are or what makes you happy. Though there is still much work to be done to educate the Korean American, and broader Asian American, community about LGBTQ-related issues, I am optimistic that we will make progress. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember we are all human beings who deserve love and respect despite our differences, including our sexual orientation.

* * *

For more information, visit: Youth Resource at www.youthresource.comPFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at www.pflag.org; the GLBT National Hotline at 1-888-THE-GLNH; or the Rainbow Youth Hotline at 1-877-LGBT-YTH.

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Dr. Esther Oh, a psychiatrist at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, writes a regular mental health column for KoreAm. If you have questions, please email her at dr.oh@iamkoream.com. All correspondence will be strictly confidential and only accessed by Dr. Oh. Opinions expressed here represent those solely of the author.

Recommended Reading


“Dr. Esther Oh Talks About Suicide”

“Gay Rights Activists in Korea Step Up to Support LGBTQ Youth”

“Chronicling the Lives of LGBT Korean Americans”

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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Study: South Koreans Becoming More Open-Minded About LGBT Issues

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

South Koreans are becoming more open-minded and adopting increasingly favorable attitudes regarding LGBT rights and issues, according to a recent study by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

The South Korea-based think tank conducted five annual surveys of South Koreans from 2010-2014, noting that the trend was most noticeable among respondents in their 20s. In 2010, 26.7 percent said they were open-minded about homosexuality. By 2014, the figure nearly doubled to 47.4 percent.

The numbers also doubled for South Koreans in their 20s and 30s who supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, going from 30.5 percent and 20.7 percent respectively in 2010 to 60.2 percent and 40.4 percent in 2014.

But while more South Koreans are indeed changing their attitudes towards LGBT issues and same-sex marriage, they still represented a minority. The overall numbers are a bit more tempered: Respondents who had no reservations of homosexuality increased from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 23.7 percent in 2014, while those who supported legalizing same-sex marriage went from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 28.5 percent in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 4.17.58 PMImage courtesy of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies


The numbers among South Koreans in their 50s and 60s remained relatively unchanged in the last five years. Among religious respondents, 70.6 percent of Protestants had reservations about LGBT issues, compared to 41.9 percent of Catholics.

Along political lines, progressives have a firmer stance on LGBT issues than moderates or conservatives. The majority of progressives supported LGBT rights and were quite open-minded about homosexuality: 83.6 percent said they would accept or at least make an effort to accept LGBT family members, compared to 60.9 percent of conservatives who answered the same.

When it came to actual political discussion, however, the Asan Institute projected that LGBT topics were still likely to be overshadowed by economic and national security concerns. Politicians, therefore, are unlikely to take up an active stance, especially when there are no voting blocs to pressure them. LGBT people in South Korea aren’t clustered and typically hide their identities, the study noted.

South Korea has supported international laws and norms, most recently joining an effort last year with the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to adopt international human rights standards to protect LGBT individuals from torture, discrimination and violence. When it comes to domestic politics, however, LGBT topics are a “major deal breaker.”

A 2007 anti-discrimination bill reinforcing basic human rights in South Korea ran into staunch conservative opposition due to sexual minorities being named as one of the principal beneficiaries. The bill was reintroduced in 2010 and again in 2013, but the National Assembly voted to repeal the legislation the last time. In October 2014, a bipartisan human rights education bill for government employees also met opposition from Christian and conservative groups who argued that the bill promoted homosexuality. The bill was repealed a month later.

LGBT issues perhaps garnered the most national attention in South Korea last year, when Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that he “personally agree[d] with the rights of homosexuals” and hoped that Korea would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

His comments drew heavy controversy after South Korean media picked up on them, and conservative groups criticized the mayor of supporting homosexuality and only doing so to gain political favor. Park backtracked on his comments and one of his election pledges, the Seoul City Charter of Human Rights. The charter had included a clause that prohibited discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and identity.

The Asan Institute noted that Mayor Park was the first prominent politician to bring LGBT issues to the forefront as a serious political and social issue. Although his backtracking may not serve as much confidence for future politicians to follow suit, the Asan Institute said LGBT activists can take over the conversation by “framing the issue within the universal context of anti-discrimination and human dignity” rather than “seeking privileges.” 

Park reportedly said something similar to the Examiner: “Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage]. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”


Recommended Reading: 

Gay Rights Activists in Korea Step Up to Support LGBTQ Youth

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Lesbian Kiss on Korean Drama Causes Stir in South Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

JTBC’s drama Seonam Girls High School Investigators caused a stir when it aired a kiss scene between two lesbian students on Feb. 25, report Agence France-Presse.

In the scene, two female high school students share a passionate kiss in the library before they end their relationship, afraid that they will be judged for their sexual orientation. It was reportedly the first kiss between two female characters to be broadcasted on South Korean television.

The Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) said on Friday that it had received complaints about the scene from conservative viewers and were investigating the matter.

“We will decide whether this is an issue after we look into it, and whether there is any violation of broadcast policy,” the commission said in a statement.

Although homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea, it still remains a highly controversial subject due to the country’s deep roots in Confucian and Protestant ethics. As a result, there are only a few openly gay public figures Korea, such as actor Hong Seok-chan, who was immediately fired from his prime-time network shows after publicly coming out in 2000.

However, the landscape of South Korea’s television industry is slowly changing as its dramas and variety shows continue to gain popularity worldwide. According to AFP, a few drama productions have already begun tackling culturally sensitive issues, such as teen pregnancy and homosexuality. Earlier this month, MBC’s Kill Me, Heal Me included a kiss scene between Ji Sung and Park Seo-joon, though, the kiss was mostly for comedic effect.

An unidentified representative of Seonam Girls High School Investigators explained that homosexuality was the first topic the producer Yeo Woon-hyuk wanted to broach. He said, “[Yeo] of course worried about the reaction to the scene, but ultimately decided that it was a topic that needed to be discussed.”

The representative also added that the production team included the kiss scene because they wanted to address the unfair treatment gay students face in their classrooms.

“We do not believe it is our prerogative to judge whether these students are right or wrong. We therefore went ahead with the scene in the hopes that diversity can be accepted and embraced,” the representative said.

The scene has triggered a mixed response from Korean netizens. While there were some conservative viewers who expressed their distaste for the kiss scene, many commenters supported it, arguing that there have been more controversial scenes in the history of Korean television.

“I like how the KCSC will let cancer, affairs, pre-marital pregnancies, and divorce dramas all pass but gay love makes them shake in their boots,” one commenter wrote, according to Gay Star News.

Another commenter wrote, “It’s not even a bed scene, it’s just a kiss scene. Are they saying that it’s more erotic because it’s done by two females? The public, major broadcast station was even airing a bed scene between high school students and them having a baby, why doesn’t the Commission review that instead?”

Others pointed out that if two men could kiss on dramas without repercussion, then women should be able to do so as well.

“If male actors had done a kiss scene, would the Commission be looking into this? Why is it that men can kiss each other but when women kiss one another it becomes an issue?” one netizen wrote.

The Seonam Girls High School Investigators controversy comes after South Korea’s Constitutional Court abolished an adultery ban, which had been criminalizing extramarital affairs for 62 years.


Featured image via AFP/JTBC

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Korean LGBT Activists Protest at Seoul City Hall

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has delayed the enactment of Seoul’s Charter of Human Rights due to an LGBT-inclusive provision, spurring a group of LGBT activists to stage sit-ins at City Hall, reports Andy Marra of the Huffington Post.

The Charter was drafted and passed by a committee of 134 citizens and 30 human rights experts on Nov. 28, 2014. It was originally scheduled to celebrate the upcoming Human Rights Day. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Nov. 30 that it would indefinitely delay the promulgation of the Charter, which bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Unfortunately, working on this charter has been creating more social conflicts,” Seoul’s municipal government said in a statement. “We would like to take more time to listen to a variety of opinions from our citizens on this matter.”

Formerly a human rights lawyer, Mayor Park has dedicated over 30 years to promote social justice and progressive grassroots activism. He was also the principal founder of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a nonprofit watchdog organization that fights political corruption, and helmed the Beautiful Foundation, a philanthropic group that tackles income inequality issues.

In October, Park told San Francisco’s edition of The Examiner that he supports same-sex marriage and expressed his desire to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Yet, the Seoul mayor seemed to have caved in to the pressure from Korean churches. He even met with protestant pastors the day after the city government announced the delay of the charter’s proclamation and told them, “As the Mayor of Seoul, I do not support homosexuality.”

Rainbow Action, a coalition of 20 LGBT organizations in South Korea and the group protesting at City Hall, have criticized Park’s lack of commitment to ensure equality for those in the LGBT community. The group wrote in its official statement:

“The Mayor’s denying the Charter … is an act of discrimination by the State that does not comport with the Constitution and the National Human Rights Commission Act, as well as the international human rights law. The Charter must be proclaimed, as is originally scheduled on December 10, 2014, Human Rights Day, in Seoul.

We, LGBT activists and supporters, now occupied the City Hall to protest against the discrimination. Mr. Park has never responded yet to our repeated requests to have a meeting. We demand a meeting with the Mayor, Mr. Park Won-Soon. We demand him to proclaim the Charter.”

To learn more about the protest, read Andy Marra’s Huffington Post piece “Don’t Let Seoul’s Mayor Buckle to Homophobia and Transphobia” here


‘Spa Night’ Explores the Story of a Closeted Korean American Teen


Spa Night is not your typical coming-out film, said writer-director Andrew Ahn of his Kickstarter film.

The film follows the story of David Cho, a closeted 18-year-old Korean American teen, living in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles. After his family’s business collapses, David secretly takes a job at a Korean spa instead of attending SAT classes. There, he shockingly finds a world he never knew existed — an underground culture of gay sex. Sparked by the discovery, he explores his sexuality at the expense of his family life.

With his Kickstarter campaign, Ahn hopes to create a film that humanizes the often polarized story of what it’s like to be gay and Korean American. He also doesn’t plan on including scenes that may seem cliché, which means David will not come out to his family. So there won’t be any scenes of screaming and yelling between the conservative parents and their gay son. Instead, the goal of the film is to depict a character who accepts himself rather than someone who seeks approval.

“David comes out to himself,” Ahn said in the Kickstarter video that explains his film. “He gains a stronger understanding of who he is. I want to make this film because homosexuality has been swept under the rug [in] the Korean American community.”

In 2012, Ahn came out to his parents by famously casting them in his 2012 film Dol, which was a story about a gay first-generation Korean American. Ahn asked his real parents to play the protagonist’s parents in the film before breaking the real news to them.

“At its core, Spa Night is about growing up,” Ahn said in another interview with Sundance.org. “It’s about becoming your own person. We all grow up with different expectations of our futures that come from outside sources: family, community, society. But there’s always a moment when you can finally hear yourself above the noise … This is the moment that Spa Night explores.”

Ahn added that his goal is to create a film that will encourage more Korean Americans to openly engage in conversations about homosexuality in their community.

“People don’t want to talk about it.” Ahn said. “People don’t want to talk about people like me. And I don’t want this part of who I am to be ignored.”

The Kickstarter for Spa Night ends on November 6th, 2014. 


Seoul Mayor Wants South Korea To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage


Park Won-soon, the mayor of the South Korean capital Seoul, openly admitted that he supports same-sex marriage, sparking fierce debate in the country that still remains largely homophobic.

In an interview with San Francisco Examiner during his visit to the U.S. last week, Park said that he hopes to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Although Park acknowledged that struggle for social acceptance that homosexuals face in South Korea will likely persist, he stressed that it is imperative for the country to protect the constitutional rights of its people.

“Many homosexual couples in South Korea are already together,” said Park. “They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows [same-sex marriage]. We are guaranteed the rights to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

No Asian country currently allows same-sex marriage as of now, but Taiwan may be the first country to do so after its legislature recently began considering a bill to legalize it. When asked if he believes Taiwan could be Asia’s first Gay-friendly country, Park reportedly replied, “I hope Korea will be the first.”

As expected, Park’s interview drew heavy controversy back home. Shortly thereafter, he backtracked on his comments through a Seoul city official, clarifying that he was merely voicing a personal opinion rather than declaring that he will seek legalization of same-sex marriage. He also added that he did not use the word “hope” to express his wish for South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, Park’s earlier comments shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the former human rights lawyer’s career in South Korean politics. As Park was running for reelection last year, he issued a permit for a gay parade led by more than 10,000 people in Seoul’s downtown amid strong opposition from Christian protesters, hundreds of whom blocked the street.

Christians comprise nearly one-third of the population in South Korea, a conservative country where Protestant churches are immensely influential. In a poll conducted by Gallup Korea last year, 67 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage while only 25 percent said they would support it.

By his own admission, Park remains skeptical over the possibility of South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage, but he has been rather resilient in making an organized effort to raise awareness of LGBT issues in South Korea. In 2001, Park established the Beautiful Foundation (Park left the foundation in 2010 to run for mayor), which reportedly has been funding LGBT groups.

But critics still argue that Park is endorsing same-sex marriage as a tool to win political favor. They say that by promoting himself as a progressive thinker who supports same-sex marriage — in addition to free government health care for all Seoul residents, civil rights for undocumented immigrants and free lunches for students at public schools — Park is simply setting himself up against the country’s conservatives to garner public support among the young voters as he’s vying to run for the 2017 presidential election.

Although the majority of South Koreans oppose same-sex marriage, the perception has already changed among the younger generation. In the same Gallup Korea poll that showed 67 percent of the survey participants oppose same-sex marriage, 52 percent of those between ages 19 and 29 said they are in support while only 38 percent of them opposed the idea.

“Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage],” Park reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

Click here to read a related KoreAm feature story about South Korean efforts to support LGBTQ youth.

Image courtesy of Seoul Labor Party


Monday's Link Attack: David Chang, Moon Bloodgood, Lesbian Korean Drama

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Here’s a slideshow of Momofuku chef David Chang.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ to Film Scene With Pittsburgh Steelers
The Hollywood Reporter

Hines Ward and members of the Pittsburgh Steelers will appear in the upcoming ‘Batman’ movie.

Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, is adding some professional athletes to its cast.

Members of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers team will be filming a scene in the Warner Bros. film this weekend playing football players at Heinz Field. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a dozen of his teammates, including Hines Ward, Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey, are expected to participate during Saturday’s filming. Thousands of extras will be on hand to play fans.

KBS receives harsh criticisms for airing Korea’s first lesbian drama

A new KBS drama called ‘Daughters of Club Bilitis‘ had viewers up in arms over the fact that it contained content relating to same-sex couples.

Moon Bloodgood on ‘Falling Skies’
Crave Online

Here’s a short Q&A with Moon Bloodgood, one of the stars of TNT’s “Falling Skies,” a sci-fi hourlong drama which concluded its first season yesterday.

Crave Online: What brought you to “Falling Skies”?

Moon Bloodgood: Well certainly when you get handed a script and they tell you it’s Bob Rodat and Steven Spielberg, you’re immediately drawn to it. It’s got your attention. I was a little cautious about wanting to do science fiction again. But it was more of a drama story, more of a family story. I liked that and I wanted to work with Spielberg. I liked the idea of playing a doctor and deviating from something I had done already. And I just love the story, the family. It was simple. It wasn’t trying to hard.

Select Korean-Americans to be allowed to exchange letters with their families in N. Korea
Yonhap News

North Korea has agreed to allow 10 Korean-Americans to exchange letters with their families in the communist country whom they have not seen since the Korean War more than a half century ago, a South Korean Red Cross official Saturday.

Margaret Cho ‘Cho Dependent’ Review
The Guardian (U.K.)

From innocence to experience, the cast of last year’s series of the US reality show Dancing with the Stars ran the full gamut. In one corner, sexual abstinence campaigner Bristol Palin. In the other, Margaret Cho, the Korean-American comedian who is to sexual abstinence what Caligula was to good governance. “I want to get f–ked into assisted living,” says Cho, whose Edinburgh show hymns her carnal voracity and her war against the Palinification of the US. Even as her tales of cunnilingus and geriatric sex strain for gaudy effect, it’s a cosy, congratulatory – and enjoyable – affair.

Postwar dreams in a changing Korea
Miami Herald

The Miami Herald reviews Samuel Park’s new novel “This Burns My Heart.”

An assistant English professor at Chicago’s Columbia College and author of the one-act play turned novella turned short film Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Samuel Park displays an affinity for stage and screen in his atmospheric and exuberantly filmic new novel.

Inspired by his mother’s memories, This Burns My Heart cuts a chunky swath of postwar South Korea from 1960 through the ’70s funneled through the life arc of sprightly but initially superficial Soo-Ja Choi. Each scene unfolds visually — in darkened stone interiors, busy hotels and coffee houses — with domineering mothers, maniacal fathers, familiar themes of filial piety and cultural obligation, the inevitably unhappy marriage that was never what it appeared. But since the story is centered on Soo-Ja, she is most sharply in focus and not always sympathetically.

Frenchman Who Teaches Korean Language at SNU
Chosun Ilbo

Marc Duval jokes that his love of the spicy Korean stew kimchi jjigae made him a professor of Korean language at the prestigious Seoul National University.

World-class athletes to gather in Daegu for int’l event
The Korea Herald

Usain Bolt, Yelena Isinbayeva, Asafa Powell and other world-class athletes will gather in Daegu next month to take part in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Championships.

Free Hank Conger!

After moving Joel Pineiro to the bullpen, there’s only one obvious move left for the Angels to make. They must free Hank Conger.

As bad as the Angels’ offense has been, it’s their catching that has been especially atrocious in 2011.

Greg Pak’s Epic Run to Conclude with INCREDIBLE HULKS #635
The Daily Blam!

Comic book writer Greg Pak is ending his five-year run as writer of The Incredible Hulks.

Marvel Comics has released advance preview pages for The Incredible Hulk​s #635, the final issue of writer Greg Pak​’s run. The issue hits stores August 31, 2011.

Oldest foreign school in Seoul kicks off its centennial
Yonhap News

Here’s a feature story on the oldest international school in South Korea.

Seoul’s oldest foreign school is turning 100 years old next year, and the school is ready to celebrate the occasion by opening itself up to show how its pioneering academics have shaped 100 years of educating Seoul’s foreign population.

The Arms Race Intrudes on Paradise [OPINION]
New York Times

Gloria Steinem writes an op-ed piece for the Times regarding Jeju Island.

Jeju isn’t called the most beautiful place on earth for nothing. Ancient volcanoes have become snow-covered peaks with pure mountain streams running down to volcanic beaches and reefs of soft coral. In between are green hills covered with wildflowers, mandarin orange groves, nutmeg forests, tea plantations and rare orchids growing wild; all existing at peace with farms, resorts and small cities. Unesco, the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural organization, has designated Jeju Island a world natural heritage site.

Now, a naval base is about to destroy a crucial stretch of the coast of Jeju, and will do this to dock and service destroyers with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems and space war applications. China and South Korea have positive relations at the moment. But this naval base is not only an environmental disaster on an island less than two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, it may be a globally dangerous provocation besides.

U.S. ignores Koreans’ protest in naming sea between Korea, Japan
Yonhap News

Despite a growing furor among Koreans, the U.S. government formally confirmed a policy Monday of calling the waters between Korea and Japan the Sea of Japan.