By Jane Han
NEW YORK - More than 100,000 people have signed on an online petition asking the White House for its support to have the East Sea rather than the Sea of Japan adopted as the name of the body of water separating Korea from Japan. The petition drive started two months ago.
Now, the ball is in the White House's court. "We expect to hear something by the end of this month", said Peter Kim, a member of the Korean-American Association of Virginia (KAAV) who started the petition on Mar. 22.
Petitions sent to the White House must reach a threshold of 25,000 signatures within 30 days in order to generate an official response.
The East Sea petition garnered 25,000 in just two weeks. It has 100,362 as of Wednesday.
"We would've already gotten a response if it weren't for such a sensitive and controversial issue", said Kim. "It's not going to be an easy call for the U.S.
government". The petition demands publishers of U.S. public school textbooks to refer to the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan not only as the Sea of Japan, but also as the East Sea.
"The White House not only has to address our position, but the Japanese side as well, which adds to the complexity", says Kim.
About a month after the East Sea petition kicked off, a group of Japanese also submitted a White House petition titled, "Sea of Japan - the authentic history in our textbook! We are teaching our children the authentic history, so why change?" It also picked up 25,000 signatures within 30 days, so an official White House response is expected.
Koreans backing the petition are hoping for a public hearing inviting both Koreans and Japanese for an opportunity to duke it out.
"It's going to be the first time in history for Koreans to confront the Japanese about this matter", said Hong Il-song, the head of KAAV and active advocate of the issue. "And we're ready to rebut each and every argument our counterparts make". Hong, who recently launched an international committee promoting the name East Sea, doesn't expect the spat to end anytime soon.
"It's not going to be a short and easy journey, but we're going to push forward and focus primarily on U.S. textbooks", he said.
"If American textbooks adopt the term East Sea, the government will eventually follow as well", he said, stressing that the U.S. government's support is essential to convincing the members of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).
The IHO, which gathered last month, failed to reach an agreement and postponed until 2017 to decide whether the Korean name "East Sea" should be concurrently used with the "Sea of Japan". Over the past several months, Korean associations big and small across the U.S. have huddled up behind this issue.
"People say you become patriot when you go abroad. That's exactly right", says Hong, who added that being far away from home allows overseas Koreans to see the forest, not just the trees.
"This issue shouldn't be taken lightly. It's extremely important to our future generations", he said.
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