Virginia legislature to debate East Sea vs. Sea of Japan dispute

December 26, 2013

seaThe Virginia Legislature will open debate next month on bills related to the South Korea and Japan’s dispute over the name of the body of water between the two nations.

There are three pending bills which require public schools in the state, just south of Washington D.C., to use textbooks identifying the East Asian body of water as the East Sea, as well as the Sea of Japan.

Shortly after convening next year’s session on Jan. 8, Virginia’s legislature is expected to start discussing the bills, thanks to tireless effort of some local residents of Korean origin, according to local sources.

Koreans contend the name Sea of Japan – which is still more popular in the international community – is a legacy of Japan’s imperialistic past. “Chances are high that the bills with bipartisan support will be approved this time,” said Peter Y. Kim, head of the Voice of Korean Americans (VoKA), an organization campaigning to publicize the East Sea name.

A potential stumbling block, however, is the Japanese community’s opposition to the bills, he added. The education committee of the Virginia Senate voted down a similar bill last year. That bill was submitted by Dave Marsden, a Democratic senator in Virginia.

Marsden again sponsored a bill on the East Sea naming, and the other two bills were drafted by Tim Hugo, a senior Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and Richard Black, a Republican member of the state Senate.

Speaking to Japan’s Kyodo News Service, Black said the issue has significance for Korean Americans and that the lawmakers backing the bills are trying to seek “a sort of balance” at educational occasions. “I don’t want to exacerbate tensions” between the Japanese and South Koreans, Black was quoted as saying.