Outrage abounds at compromise on the ‘East Sea’

Roh proposal to Abe to call ocean ‘Sea of Peace’ floats no boats here

January 08, 2007

President Roh Moo-hyun reportedly told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan in November that he was willing to compromise on the name of the Sea of Japan, as it is known internationally, or the East Sea as Koreans call it and want to have the rest of the world call it as well. What’s in a name? A lot of emotion. Korea has invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital in trying to get the International Hydrographic Organization, the arbiter of international maritime names, to rename the sea. Koreans contend that the international approval of the current name, which came in 1929 while Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, was another example of Japan’s efforts to suppress Korea’s history and personality. Korean historians have scoured old maps, looking for examples of other names for the body of water. The Segye Times reported the conversation yesterday morning, and reaction in Korea was swift and negative. Some critics complained that the next step would be to give up the name Dokdo for a group of islets whose Korean ownership is disputed by Japan and use the Japanese name, Takeshima. The Blue House tried to calm the storm. A statement by Mr. Rohs diplomatic advisor called the Segye Times report “preposterous”, and that Mr. Roh was “giving an example to stress the need for the two countries to be broad-minded and to change the way of thinking in order to settle bilateral issues”. The statement quoted the president as saying, “The issue of the name of the East Sea is a tricky problem. My comment is just an idea in that we may promote mutual trust if we succeed in solving the problem. I’m not making an official offer”. Continuing to quote Mr. Roh, the Blue House statement said, “It could be a foundation of a conversation between the two countries if we agreed to call it ‘Sea of Peace’ or ‘Sea of Friendship’ or ‘Sea of Reconciliation'”. Mr. Roh’s comments also disturbed Koreans because of the perceived change in his hard-line attitude against Mr. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, on issues such as the ownership of the Dokdo islets, the naming of undersea geographical features in the ocean that separates the two nations and Mr. Koizumi’s visits to a Japanese war shrine that has bitter memories for Koreans and Chinese because convicted Japanese war criminals are honored there. A senior Blue House official, who declined to be named, said, “Mr. Roh has brainstormed with his secretaries in the past on the idea to unify the name, but it is not the official stance of the government”. He said Mr. Abe did not react to the president’s comment. Jiji Press, a Japanese news agency, said a few hours after the Korean newspaper’s report that Mr. Roh had “offered” the name change, which Mr. Abe “refused on the spot”. It attributed the report to an unidentified Japanese government official. Korean Internet users flooded message boards with criticism, several saying with less than stellar logic that Mr. Roh had given up Korea’s sovereign right to name the sea as it desired. The Grand National Party called Mr. Roh’s comments “irresponsile and thoughtless”. Yoo Ki-june, a party spokesman, complained, “Mr. Roh has ignored the meaning of the name ‘East Sea’ to Koreans”.

by Chun Su-jin,Lee Sang-eon

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