WASHINGTON – The Virginia Senate passed a bill Thursday that will require future school textbooks to carry both names used by the Japanese and South Korean governments for the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
The bill to teach students the East Sea, used by the South Korean government, in addition to the widely used Sea of Japan, has stirred controversy, as the U.S. federal government formally recognizes only the latter.
The bid is backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Virginia, home to an increasing number of Korean-Americans, and a similar bill has been submitted to the House of Delegates.
If that chamber clears the bill, it will take effect with the signature of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, affecting textbooks the local board of education adopts from July 1.
The government maintains the Sea of Japan is the only internationally established name for the sea but the South Korean government is pressing for other countries to use the East Sea.
Richard Black, a Republican senator who co-sponsored the bill, told a plenary session the legislation is necessary as there was “no Korean voice” when an international organization decided to use the name Sea of Japan in the 1920s. The peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, has been promoting Tokyo’s position, such as during a meeting with McAuliffe, in a bid to prevent final enactment of the bills.
Sasae said it does not seem fair in primary and secondary education only to back one side over a matter of international dispute.
Some counties in Maryland, which neighbors Virginia, have already decided to teach students both the Japanese and South Korean names for the body of water, despite objections from Tokyo.
The U.S. government “understands” that South Korea uses a different term from the Sea of Japan, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said earlier this week.