Diplomatic rifts between Seoul and Tokyo largely come from historical problems stemming from the legacy of imperial Japan’s 35-year colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula (1910-1945).
The forced annexation ended upon Japan’s defeat in World War II but vestiges of resentment and hurt from historical events still remain in the hearts of Koreans as well as Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians and many others who endured similar suffering.
The issue of the “East Sea” is no exception in the war of diplomacy between the two neighboring countries.
Japan registered the name of the waters separating the two as “Sea of Japan” to the inter-government International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in 1929 during the colonial period.
Historical facts prove that Seoul has a stronger claim over the naming of the sea. Japan only began referring to it as Sea of Japan in the late 18th century. Previously, the dominant name was arguably the East Sea.
However, the IHO still sticks to the old usage of the name due to Japan’s repeated requests to maintain the status quo. No other countries bothered involving themselves in the issue considering its sensitivity.
But things have been changing lately due to diplomatic efforts by Seoul.
During the 10th United Nations Conference on standardizing geographical names, Monday, France and Qatar spoke in favor of Seoul’s claim to use both East Sea and Sea of Japan on international maps.
“The countries knew about the sensitivity but still indicated their support,” said a foreign ministry official. “This shows that South Korea is drawing international awareness in the historical irrationality of calling the waters Sea of Japan.”
According to the foreign ministry, nearly 30 percent of world maps already use both East Sea and Sea of Japan.
Setting aside Seoul and Tokyo’s active move to search for more evidence to strengthen their name claims, it is essential for Japan to face history in an upright manner for Korea-Japan relations to advance.
Burying the past is not a solution but as some suggest, it could be a way of mending Korea-Japan ties.
Lingering anti-Japanese sentiment here comes from Japan’s long-held assertion that the compensation to those who suffered damages from its past colonialism, including forced sexual slavery and conscripted laborers, was settled through the 1965 Claims Settlement Agreement when the countries reestablished diplomatic relations.
Sovereignty claims against the South Korean islets of Dokdo and the naming of the body of water separating the two is also construed by Koreans to be in line with Japan’s stance of failing to recognize and apologize for past wrongdoings.
On top of that, Japan’s latest move to expand the role of its Self-Defense Forces has added to the deteriorating Korea-Japan relations.
Against this backdrop, the official use of the name East Sea on world maps could serve as a tipping point in setting the record straight for Korea-Japan relations to move towards a better future.
For that end, drawing international support is essential in the lead up to the next IHO conference, slated for 2017.
It would also be meaningful and effective to cooperate with Asian nations who share similar backgrounds to push Japan to accept the concurrent use of the names. <The Korea Times/Chung Min-uck>
Russia, Attended Kim Il-sung University, PhD in Korean History, Leningrad State University, Professor at Australian National University(1996), Professor at Kookmin University, Contributor for The AsiaN
Nepal, Reporter of The Rising Nepal
Egypt, Editor of Al-Arabi Magazine in Kuwait, Chief of The AsiaN's Middle East Bureau
Pakistan, Pakistan Press International Editor, Contributor for The AsiaN
India, SPOTFILMS CEO, FORMEDIA Chairman
Egypt, Managing Editor of the AsiaN's Middle East Bureau, Graduate Student of Mass Communication and Journalism at Ahram Canadian University