East Sea has stronger legitimacy than Sea of Japan
College students take part in a campaign at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul early this month to promote the East Sea ahead of the International Hydrographic Organization’s general meeting in Monaco April 23-27. The organization will determine how to describe the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan in the world’s most creditable guideline for maps./ Korea Times file
Long-festering naming controversy to be debated in IHO meeting next week
By Park Chang-seok
“Until the East Sea’s waves are dry, Mt. Baekdu are worn away, as God protects our land, our Korea lasts forever, manse!…” This is part of the Korean national anthem “Aegukka”.
The “East Sea” (“Donghae” in Korean) is mentioned in the first line of “Aegukka”, literally meaning an ode to Koreans’ patriotism. The East Sea is not just a body of water – it is the history of Korea, the soul of Koreans. So, it’s not up for geographical appellation debate.
The East Sea, or the “Sea of Japan?” What to call the body of water bordered by Korea, Japan and Russia remains controversial. The Republic of Korea insists on the East Sea, while Japan claims it’s the Sea of Japan.
Koreans have called the waters the East Sea for about 2,000 years, as seen in their national anthem, according to historical documents. The Sea of Japan has been in use since the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), a body in charge of naming the oceans and seas, used the name in its first edition of “Limits of Oceans and Seas” in 1929. The long-festering controversy will again be debated in an IHO general meeting in Monaco from April 23 to 27.
In general, geographical names reflect the history, culture, lifestyle and philosophy of the people who use them. The name East Sea is no exception. The East Sea, a name deeply rooted in the lives of the Korean people, first appears in a historical document dating back to as early as 59 B.C. In the “History of the Three Kingdoms” (“Samguksagi”, 三國史記), the name East Sea was used in a chapter on King Dongmyeong, the founder of Goguryeo (one of the three ancient kingdoms in Korea). This proves that the name East Sea dates back more than 2,000 years, 1,700 years before the first appearance of the name Sea of Japan in “Mappamondo”, a publication by Italian missionary Matteo Ricci in 1602.
Historically, the East Sea has been an integral part of Korean history. It’s not up for a matter of debate.
It has a stronger claim over the Sea of Japan. A noteworthy example of the use of the name East Sea is the inscription on the stele of King Gwanggaeto of the Goguryeo Kingdom in 414 A.D. Since the territory of Goguryeo at that time extended as far as Manchuria in China, the name East Sea encompassed the waters not only east of the Korean Peninsula but east of the entire Eurasian continent as well. The stele was erected by King Jangsu in 414 A.D. in memory of the great work of his father, King Gwanggaeto of the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668 A.D.).
Nowadays, many of the world’s prominent cartographers and the media are beginning to recognize the validity of the name East Sea, and have moved away from the single use of Sea of Japan to the concurrent use of both names.
In some cases they even use only the name East Sea. In this view, the single use of Sea of Japan is problematic. Such trends suggest growing support and understanding for the name East Sea in the international community.
Japan is also starting to acknowledge that many prominent mapmaking companies are changing from the single use of Sea of Japan to the concurrent use of both names. Studies carried out by Japan and Korea respectively show that maps using both names concurrently are on the rise, increasing from 2.8 percent in 2000 to 10.8 percent (18.1 percent in the case of commercial maps) in 2005, followed by 23.8 percent in 2007 and then to 28.07 percent in 2009. These can be confirmed in such materials as booklets by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called “Sea of Japan” (2002) and “A Historical Overview of the Name ‘Sea of Japan'” and surveys by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea in 2007 and 2009.
According to Dr. David Munro, a British scholar of toponymy, geographical names are an expression of perceptions of a place, a means of communication about that place and a way of referencing. Since geographical names are a part of the lives of the people who use them, it is common practice to give the highest priority to the names used by local people when deciding on a name for international use.
More in favor of East Sea
Lying between Korea and Japan and extending north toward Russia, the area in question includes the territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the countries encircling it. In other words, several countries share jurisdiction and sovereign rights over the sea. Furthermore, the body of water falls within the definition of a “semi-enclosed sea” as set out in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. A “semi-enclosed sea” is a gulf, basin or sea surrounded by two or more states and connected to another sea or the ocean by a narrow outlet or consisting entirely or primarily of the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of the two or more coastal states.
When two or more countries share a geographical feature, its designation is generally standardized through consultations between the countries concerned. If efforts to standardize it fail, however, the names used by each of the countries are used concurrently. This general rule of international cartography is also confirmed in the IHO Technical Resolution A4.2.6. adopted in 1974 and the United Nations Resolution in the Standardization of Geographical Names III/20 adopted in 1977.
International Hydrographic Organization Technical Resolution A4.2.6 〈International Standardization of Geographical Names (1974)〉 states:
“It is recommended that when two or more countries share a given geographical feature (such as a bay, strait, channel or archipelago) under a different name form, they should endeavor to reach an agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned. If they have different official languages and cannot agree on a common name form, it is recommended that the name forms of each of the languages in question should be accepted for charts and publications unless technical reasons prevent this practice on small scale charts, e.g. English Channel/La Manche”.
Japan has continuously put forward a false argument that the name Sea of Japan has been authorized by the United Nations. However, it is the United Nations Secretariat, not the United Nations itself that uses Sea of Japan. This is merely a practice of convenience, which is not relevant to the opinions of the 193 member states of the United Nations. The U.N. Secretariat uses Sea of Japan in accordance with a practice to use the most widespread and generally recognized denomination in the absence of an internationally agreed standard. However, the U.N. Secretariat has clarified that its use of Sea of Japan does not constitute an official position of the United Nations but rather a practice of the Secretariat.
Furthermore, it emphasized that the practice should not be interpreted as advocating or endorsing any party’s position, and can in no way be invoked by any party in support of a particular position on the matter. Therefore, Japan’s argument is obviously a misleading interpretation of the U.N. Secretariat’s practice and is clearly false.
More than half of the IHO’s working group on the standardization of geographical names rejected a proposal to name the 978,000-square-kilometer area the Sea of Japan. The working group is made up of experts from 27 of the intergovernmental consultative organization’s 80 member countries.
The chairman of the IHO working group recently asked its 27 members, including the United States and China, to give their opinion on a compromise deal, which would name it the Sea of Japan and use the East Sea as an alternative name in the appendix.
In this regard, it was confirmed that slightly more than half of them expressed their disapproval for the proposal. China has indirectly expressed its displeasure with the suggestion, saying the “decision should be reached through a consensus”. France and Australia have reportedly expressed strong support for Korea’s demand to use both the East Sea and Sea of Japan to refer to the body of water.
The appellation Sea of Japan is a legacy of Tokyo’s brutal 35-year colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, which ended in 1945 upon its defeat in World War II. Japan is believed to have begun to refer to the disputed area as the Sea of Japan in the late 18th century. It has been the dominant name for the body of water in the past century as it was commonly adopted by cartographers during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea. It is nonsensical to name a sea surrounded by four countries after only one of them.
Some experts have said that is common to name the body of water after the land on the left side of the sea, which in this case would be Korea, or the Sea of Korea, according to Philip Iglauer, an expert well versed in the appellation of oceans and seas. We live in a postcolonial world and we need postcolonial sensitivity.
Park Chang-seok is a research fellow of the Korea Institute of Public Administration (KIPA) under the Prime Minister’s Office. Park, a former managing editor of The Korea Times and a Kyung Hee University professor, is currently working on a book titled “Korean Maritime Sovereignty” planned to be published around the end of this year.