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TITLE South Korea’s Position on Naming the East Sea
DATE 2014.12.11 HITS 1664
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Summary on the Issue of Naming the East Sea

South Korea and Japan have opposing opinions when it comes to a common name to be internationally used for the sea between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese archipelago. Considering that the two countries are using completely different names and that it is unreasonable to adopt only one of such names, specifically the name "Sea of Japan" in this case, South Korea advocates the concurrent use of both names the "East Sea" and the "Sea of Japan." However, Japan finds it unacceptable to take on any other name except the Sea of Japan, insisting that it has already been internationally established.

Taking into account the geographical traits of the waters, the international norms for establishing geographical names and the historical legitimacy the name East Sea holds, South Korea considers it proper to use both names used by each country while the two countries remain in disagreement on a common name for the sea they share.

 

South Korea's Position: Legitimacy of the Name "East Sea"

Geographical Features of the East Sea

The sea in question comprises an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the territorial waters of four countries: South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Russia. As such, adopting a single designation named after the name of a specific country cannot be justified for waters shared by multiple countries and influenced by each of their sovereign authority.

Naming a geographical area shared by two or more countries is usually determined by an agreement between the countries involved. If an agreement cannot be reached, the general rule of international cartography is to concurrently notate each name individually endorsed by different countries involved. This rule is also confirmed through resolutions of the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

 

Rules of International Organizations

The International Hydrographic Organization Technical Resolution (A.4.2.6) and the United Nations Resolution on the Standardization of Geographical Names (III/20) recommend that countries sharing a geographical area, but use different names to refer to the area, should endeavor to reach an agreement on a single name. Should they fail to reach an agreement, the name used by each country involved should be concurrently adopted for charts and publications.

 
International Hydrographic Organization Technical Resolution A4.2.6 International Standardization of Geographical Names(1974)

It is recommended that when two or more countries share a given geographical feature under a different name form, they should endeavor to reach agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned. If they have different official languages and cannot agree on a common name form, it is recommended that the name forms of each of the languages in question should be accepted for charts and publications unless technical reasons prevent this practice.

United Nations Resolution on the Standardization of Geographical Names Ⅲ/20 (1977)

Considering the need for international standardization of names of geographical features that are under the sovereignty of more than one country or are divided among two or more countries, it is recommended that relevant countries sharing a given geographical feature under different names should endeavor, as far as possible, to reach agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned. If those countries do not succeed in agreeing on a common name, it should be a general rule of international cartography that the name used by each of the countries concerned will be accepted.
 

Koreans and the Name "East Sea"

The name East Sea first appeared in the old Korean publication "Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms)," in the part recording the reign of King Dongmyeong of Koguryo, one of the three ancient Korean kingdoms. The name continued to turn up in other numerous literature and old maps of Korea that followed, including the stele of Gwanggaeto the Great, Paldochongdo (Map of the Eight Provinces of Korea) and Agukchongdo (Map of Joseon). Furthermore, the name East Sea was used seven centuries prior to the appearance of the country name "Japan," from which the name Sea of Japan originates.

Above all, a geographical name tends to bear the history, culture and identity of the people using the name. The fact that the name East Sea comes up in the first line of South Korea’s national anthem demonstrates that the name has long been part of the life and history of Koreans.

 
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Background to the Spread of the Name "Sea of Japan" and the Suggestion to Concurrently Use the Name "East Sea"

The International Hydrographic Organization was established in 1921 to determine the international rules required for safety of navigation and international standardization of geographical names of the seas. The Organization published the "Limits of Oceans and Seas" (S-23) in 1929 as a result of several years of discussion. As the standard for naming the seas all over the world, the publication became an important occasion to spread the use of the name Sea of Japan on charts and publications in a number of countries around the world.

Nevertheless, Korea was unable to raise in the international society any legitimate objection to naming the East Sea because it was under Japanese colonial rule at that time. The second (1937) and third (1953) editions of the "Limits of Oceans and Seas" (S-23) came out thereafter, but both editions marked the East Sea as the Sea of Japan. Throughout the publication of the two editions, Korea remained incapable of asserting its opinion as it had either still been forcibly occupied by Japan or was at war.

The South Korean Government was finally able to officially raise an objection on naming the East Sea in the international society through the "United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographic Names" in 1992, shortly after gaining membership into the United Nations in 1991. The South Korean Government has kept up its efforts to restore the name East Sea ever since.

 

Use of the Name "East Sea" and the International Society

Expanding Concurrent Use of the Name "East Sea" in the International Society

A number of cartographers around the world have been switching from solely using the Sea of Japan to concurrently using it with the East Sea. According to results of a survey the South Korean government performed in 2007 on world maps, about 23.8% concurrently used the East Sea and the Sea of Japan. Survey results from Japan also confirm this spreading trend of concurrent use, which showed an increase from 2.8% to 18.1% between 2000 and 2005.

 
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Position of the United Nations Secretariat

Japan insists that the United Nations (UN) has officially approved of the name Sea of Japan, which is not exactly true. It is not the UN that uses the name Sea of Japan, but only its secretariat, a principal arm of the UN. Therefore, the secretariat using only the Sea of Japan does not represent the opinion of all 192 members of the UN.
Furthermore, the UN Secretariat uses only the Sea of Japan according to its internal practice which spells out that "for any names in dispute, it uses the most widely used name before relevant parties reach the agreement."

The UN Secretariat does not support any single party engaged in dispute with other countries and states that its practice of using a single name should not be invoked by any one party to strengthen its position in a dispute. (Letter from UN Secretariat to UN Ambassador of South Korea in June 2004).

 

Position of the United States

The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) has been emphasizing the importance of the need for South Korea and Japan to reach an agreement on the issue of naming the East Sea. The BGN uses the name Sea of Japan in accordance with its custom of employing the most widely used name of the times until both countries arrive at an agreement. Thus, the BGN’s use of the Sea of Japan should not be interpreted as its approval of the name.

 

South Korea and the East Sea

South Korea hopes the name East Sea will be widely used in maps in countries all around the world. Since South Korea and Japan are unable to reach an agreement on the naming issue, South Korea’s view is that international norms should be followed, thereby using both the East Sea and the Sea of Japan concurrently.

No South Korean acknowledges that the islands on the East Sea are situated in the waters of Japan, namely the Sea of Japan. What South Koreans hope to do is to restore the name East Sea after having been unable to inform the international society of its existence due to Korea’s unfortunate past.

South Korea will continue explaining to the international society the legitimacy behind the concurrent use of the East Sea and the injustice in using only the Sea of Japan on the basis of objective facts and general principles of the international society.
 
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