|State Sen. Richard Black (second from right) poses for the camera with Korean-Americans at the State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday after the vote on SB2, requiring approved textbooks in Virginia to use both terms of the Sea of Japan and the East Sea. The bill, coauthored by Sen. Dave Marsden, passed 31-4. (Yonhap)|
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) ― Virginia’s state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill supported by the Korean-American community endeavoring to publicize the name East Sea for the body of water between Korea and Japan.
The 31-4 vote Thursday represents a significant victory for ethnic Koreans in the state against high-profile lobbying by the Japanese Embassy in Washington.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Marsden, would require all new textbooks for Virginia schools to use the name East Sea as well as the Sea of Japan.
Virginia’s House of Delegates is expected to start discussing a similar bill next week and a floor vote is expected in mid-February.
If it is approved and Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs it into law, it would go into effect on July 1.
It would mark the first time that a U.S. state legislature has passed a legal measure on the East Sea name.
Koreans believe the name Sea of Japan, still more popular in the international community, is a legacy of Japan’s imperialistic past. The East Sea is historically the correct name, they say.
They expect Virginia to serve as a stepping stone for a nationwide campaign.
“We are very pleased with the passage of the bill in the Senate. But there is still a long way to go,” said Peter Y. Kim, head of the Voice of Korean Americans, an organization campaigning for the East Sea name.
He warned Koreans against complacency, especially as Japan is stepping up lobbying against the bill pending in the House of Delegates.
Japanese Ambassador to Washington Kenichiro Sasae met with McAuliffe on Wednesday, apparently to discuss the issue.
The embassy has reportedly hired four McGuire Woods lobbyists to argue that the International Hydrographic Organization should label the water as the Sea of Japan.
The U.S. government also uses it under a single-name policy.
The State Department has declined to intervene in the dispute.
“We do understand that the Republic of Korea uses a different term,” the department’s deputy spokeswoman said at a press briefing earlier this week. “We encourage Japan and Korea to work together to reach a mutually agreed way forward on this issue.”
South Korean diplomats in Washington are asking the U.S. government to simultaneously use the East Sea, citing related historical background, an informed source said.
“For now, it is a realistic goal to push for the simultaneous use of the two names,” the source said. “Of course, South Korea’s ultimate goal is to have the East Sea adopted by the IHO.”