Monday, August 8, 2011

East Sea or Sea of Japan?

You've probably heard of the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia. And the one going on South of China lately too. But there's another one in the same town that has been going on for decades, and it sort of exploded yesterday. It is the naming controversy of the ocean that lies between Japan and Korea.

There has been decades-long dispute over whether this sea was to be called 'East Sea' as Koreans call it, or 'Sea of Japan', the Japanese name. Korean government has been lobbying and doing a variety of things to make the international standards 'East Sea', but yesterday this happened : US agency IHO chooses Sea of Japan over East Sea. More below.

As of now, Sea of Japan is more prominently used than East Sea. Most people may find this obvious - It is next to Japan, which is a bigger country than Korea. East Sea only makes sense from Koreans' point of view.

But things are more complicated than that. If the sea is named Sea of Japan officially and internationally, it implies territorial ownership of the area for Japan. And in the middle of the ocean, there sits Dokdo (Liancourt Rocks), which has been the symbol of the territorial dispute between the two nations. I remember when I was little and growing up in Korea, they even taught us songs about Korea's ownership of the islands.

So how do you name oceans these days? It's not back in the days when stronger nations could do whatever the hell they wanted. Naming an ocean would need an appropriate reasoning and historical evidence behind it. Most people, especially Americans, may know Japan as the more prominent and stronger nation, but South Korea is no third world nation, as part of the G-20, and some say South Korea has entered the top 10 of the world economy.

So we look at historical precedence. Both nations have looked into international archives of different recordings. For better credibility and objectivity, both nations have researched outside sources dating as far back as 16th century. You can look at the overall chart here. So basically, both sides have shown their proofs. Koreans claim that the term East Sea has been used for more than 2,000 years (according to historical recordings from Korean dynasties), yet Japanese claim similar arguments. Koreans also claim that

This dispute has come up many many times for decades. UN has mostly decided not to interfere with the issue, and many nations, organizations and maps have used both terms together. Except recently, Japan's right-wing leaders and politicians have brought up the territorial debate back up Japan-South Korea Island Dispute Escalates. This is a VERY sensitive topic for many Koreans, and this quickly came up as the hot topic of the month. Then IHO made the announcement to use 'Sea of Japan' instead. Some news media are saying that the USA has betrayed South Koreans' trust, even.

You can read more about this territorial dispute in the wikipedia article here.

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