Despite Korean efforts, geographic conference backs Sea of Japan name

Kyodo

The Sea of Japan will remain the term of reference for the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan despite efforts by North and South Korea to have the name changed.

“I encourage the three countries concerned to find a solution acceptable to all of them, taking into account any relevant solutions, or else to agree to differ and to report the outcome of these discussions to the next conference,” F.J. Ormeling, chair of the session at the ninth conference on the standardization of geographical names, said Monday.

Naming the body of water has generated increasing controversy as North and South Korea claim the Korean people have used the “Sea of Korea” or “East Sea” designation for more than 2,000 years and that the “Sea of Japan” name is a vestige of Japan’s colonial past.

The two Koreas have been lobbying the international body at several conferences, held every five years, for concurrent use of “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” until the countries can agree on a common designation.

Japan, however, argues that the “Sea of Japan” designation is long established both historically and internationally, and that the conference is not the appropriate venue for handling the matter.

“First, (the) Sea of Japan is the only name for the sea area concerned that has been established both historically and internationally,” Jiro Kodera, a member of Japan’s U.N. mission and its representative at the conference, said in prepared remarks.

He also argued that the term was in use in the late 18th and early 19th century, predating Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

Kodera said the issue has been raised by North and South Korea as a “bilateral and political claim,” and it should be settled among the parties without taking it to the conference.

In addition to claiming the term has been authorized by the United Nations, he said, “My delegation firmly believes that it is high time for this issue to be put to rest and for us to turn our attention to the true aims of this conference.”

“The Republic of Korea has made continuous efforts to seek a mutually agreeable solution through bilateral consultation with Japan,” said Song Young Wan, director general of the International Organizations Bureau in the South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry. But he expressed dissatisfaction that only one bilateral meeting at the diplomatic level has taken place since 2002.

“Japan repeated a position of no flexibility, insisting that there is no option beyond the single, exclusive name Sea of Japan,” he said, asserting that name gained wide acceptance in the early 20th century due to Japan’s expansionism.

The South Korean diplomat also said his country “deems it inappropriate to name a sea area after a specific country without consent of other states directly concerned.”

As evidence of the increased acceptance of both references, he pointed to how nearly a quarter of commercially available maps worldwide are now using both names.