Japan is considering holding informal talks with South Korea and other countries on a dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan, a top official has hinted, in what could become the latest in a series of diplomatic feuds between Tokyo and Seoul.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Friday the government is contemplating the talks at the request of an intergovernmental organization that sets out guidelines on the international names of seas and oceans, and their boundaries.
Noting that Japan is a “responsible member” of the International Hydrographic Organization, Suga said the government will “make constructive contributions to the informal talks.”
But he also said that “the Sea of Japan is the only internationally recognized name and there is no need or reason for changing it.”
South Korea has persistently argued that the waters should be called the “East Sea” and has demanded it be called as such on sea charts, insisting the name has a long history. It has also said the Sea of Japan is a name Tokyo began widely using from 1910 to 1945, during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan has been urged by the IHO to engage in consultations with South Korea over the naming dispute by 2020, when the Monaco-based body is scheduled to hold its next general meeting to discuss updating the guidelines, according to a government source.
If talks are to be held on the issue, the two countries may again clash on the dispute at a time when bilateral tension has increased in recent months over wartime labor compensation.
The two countries are also at loggerheads over the alleged lock-on of a fire-control radar by a South Korean Navy destroyer on a Self-Defense Forces plane in the Sea of Japan in December.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha are expected to discuss such issues when they meet Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
But when asked about the name dispute during a news conference on Friday, Kono sounded negative about holding formal bilateral consultations to resolve it.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to have bilateral talks” on this matter, he said.