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How to name the Sea Area between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago
October, 2002, Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Historically, the sea area between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago, known as the "Sea of Japan", had been referred to by various names. Before the 18th century, no single name had been consistently used to designate this body of water. Various names such as "East Sea," "Sea of Korea," "Sea of Japan" and "Oriental Sea" appeared on old maps and publications.
A recent study on a large collection of old maps in the British National Library dating back to the 18th century shows that of the 90 maps which gave a name to the sea between Korea and Japan, 72 referred to the sea as "Sea of Korea" or "East Sea".
It is from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century that "Sea of Korea" and "Sea of Japan" gained wide acceptance and became the names most frequently used by cartographers. It is worth noting that as late as 1870 even many Japanese maps referred to this body of water as the "Sea of Chosen (Choson)" which literally means "Sea of Korea," Choson being the ancient name of Korea.
When and why did the name "Sea of Japan" replace other names?
It was not until the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) that the term "Sea of Japan" gained wider acceptance. The Russo-Japanese war not only influenced western perceptions of East Asia in Japan's favor, but it also drastically changed the political landscape in East Asia. As a result, Korea was deprived of its political independence in 1905 and five years later fell under Japanese occupation.
The absence of Korea's diplomatic representation in international affairs during the first half of the 20th century until the end of World War II gave Japan a free hand to promote the term "Sea of Japan" with virtually no opposition. The active promotion by Japan and its enhanced political stature in the world scene at that time led to the gradual replacement of such names as "Sea of Korea," "East Sea" or "Oriental Sea" by the term "Sea of Japan."
This process culminated in the publication of the first edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas," which was published by the decision of the 1929 Monaco Conference of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) as special publication No. 23. This book, which has since been used by cartographers all over the world as an authoritative reference for designating maritime features, employed the term "Sea of Japan" for the body of water in question.
It is important for the international community not to lose sight of the fact that the decision by the editors of the above-mentioned book in favor of the name "Sea of Japan" was taken without due regard to the views of the Korean people during the period when Korea itself disappeared from the world map. This inherently partial decision is hard to justify and should therefore be rectified.
What should be the proper name?
Lying between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago and extending north toward Russia, the body of water in question is divided into either territorial waters or EEZ's of the encircling countries. The Republic of Korea believes that naming such a sea area after a particular country cannot be justified and that the sea should have a neutral name.
The name "East Sea", on top of its neutral character, has another advantage in that the adjective "East" perfectly fits with its geographical position, located in the Far Eastern part of Asia. Similar nomenclature for a body of water can be found in the example of the North Sea, which derives its name from its location relative to the European continent.
Given the reality that the name "Sea of Japan" is widely used at present, however, the Republic of Korea, is of the view that, as an interim measure pending a final agreement between the two countries on a common designation, the two names, "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan," should be used simultaneously in all official documents, maps and atlases in accordance with the general rule of international cartography.
This view is in line with the recommendations adopted by the following two authoritative international organizations in the area of the standardization of geographical names:
- The IHO, in its resolution A. 4. 2, 6 adopted on March 13, 1974, endorsed the principle of simultaneous recognition of different names for a shared geographic feature when the sharing countries do not agree on a common name.
- The Third UNCSGN went further to adopt resolution III/20 entitled "Names of Features beyond a Single Sovereignty." The resolution recommended that, "when countries sharing a given geographical feature do not agree on a common name, it should be a general rule of cartography that the name used by each of the countries concerned will be accepted. A policy of accepting only one or some of such names while excluding the rest would be inconsistent as well as inexpedient in practice."
The simultaneous use of the two names is further justified by the examples of English Channel/La Manche and Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas.
Efforts by the Republic of Korea to restore the proper name
The Korean people have never accepted the name "Sea of Japan." Since its liberation in 1945, the Republic of Korea has made consistent efforts to restore the appropriate name for the sea area in question.
It was in the negotiations of the 1965 Fisheries Agreement between the Republic of Korea and Japan that the Republic of Korea formally took up the issue with Japan. For the designation of this body of water, Korea proposed "East Sea," while Japan insisted on the term "Sea of Japan." Failing to agree on a common designation, the two countries agreed on a provisional basis to use their own respective names in the original texts of the Agreement, i.e., "East Sea" in the Korean version and "Sea of Japan" in the Japanese version.
The Republic of Korea has initiated efforts to convince the international community of the validity of its arguments. For instance, the Republic of Korea brought this issue to the attention of the Member States of the United Nations at the Sixth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names (UNCSGN) in 1992. Strongly arguing for the name "East Sea," it tried to enlist the support of the international community for this cause. As a result, the Sixth Conference suggested that relevant parties consult with each other to resolve this issue.
At the Seventh UNCSGN held in New York in January 1998, the Republic of Korea reiterated its position that the term "Sea of Japan" is unjustified, and called for urgent rectification. However, Japan has not changed its stance since the Sixth Conference on the basis that the name "Sea of Japan" is already widely accepted, and that the introduction of other names would cause confusion. The ROK, however, had the support of other representatives, who urged at the Conference that cartographers should be encouraged to use both names, as in the example of "English Channel/La Manche." The UNCSGN President urged that the concerned parties have consultations, taking into account previous resolutions to try to reach an agreement.
The Republic of Korea followed this suggestion and has consistantly proposed to hold a bilateral consultation with Japanese side to find a mutually acceptable solution, only to have Japan come to table for the first time last December. To our disappointment, however, Japan had no intention to consider any other options except the sole usage of "Sea of Japan".
Under such circumstances, the continuation of the status quo will only perpetuate the unfair and incorrect practice of the past and, therefore, is not acceptable to the Republic of Korea.
At the 16th International Hydrographic Conference held in Monaco in April 2002, the Republic of Korea requested that both names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" be simultaneously used in ¡¸The Limits of Oceans and Seas¡¹. The request was based on IHO Resolution A.4.2.6., which endorsed the principle of simultaneous recognition of different names of a shared geographical feature when sharing countries do not agree on a common name. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, along with France and Australia, supported the statement of the Republic of Korea.
The Republic of Korea's efforts have begun to yield some encouraging results, thanks to the understanding of the international community. Notable examples in this regard are the recent decisions made by Rand McNally, Encyclopedia Britannica and the National Geographic Society to use both names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" in their maps and publications.
Rand McNally, one of the world's largest commercial map-makers, used both names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" in ¡¸Premier World Atlas¡¹(1997) and ¡¸Portrait World Atlas¡¹(1998). Encyclopedia Britannica, in ¡¸Political Map of Britannica CD 98¡¹ released in March 1998, followed the same format as Rand McNally.
In December 1999, the National Geographic Society of the USA, publisher of the¡¸National Geographic¡¹, decided to use both "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" simultaneously in all its publications. And recently, in January 2001, the NGS began to publish maps using both names of "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" simultaneously.
In addition, ¡¸"Humanitarian Response Planning Map" DPRK 1998¡¹, prepared by the US Agency for International Development in December 1997, used "Sea of Japan(East Sea)". Also, ¡¸Democratic People's Republic of Korea Landform and Land Cover¡¹ produced in 1998 by the United Nations Environment Programme starts with "East Sea". A part of 'Japan and Korea' in ¡¸The Cartographic Satellite Atlas of World¡¹, published by WorldSat International Inc. in 1997, used 'TONG-HAE(East Sea)/NIPPON-KAI(Sea of Japan)' as romanization of the endonym. The well-known US geography textbook, ¡¸Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts 2000¡¹(Ninth Edition, published in August 1999) by J.J. de Blij and Peter O. Muller, uses both names "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" simultaneously.
Geographical names often have serious implications for the perception of a nation's identity, culture, language and history. Thus, finding a proper name for the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago is not just a question of geographical designation. It is rather a part of national efforts by the Korean people to redress the unfairness that has resulted from the past.
In conclusion, the Republic of Korea calls upon the international community to use both names simultaneously (in such a way as "East Sea/Sea of Japan") in any official documents and world atlases as an interim measure pending an agreement on a common designation, which is in accordance with the general rule of international cartography.