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Seoul under fire over East Sea name policy

South Korea’s recent offer to simultaneously use the “East Sea” and the “Sea of Japan” to name the waters between the peninsula and Japan is drawing criticism from people here, who fear the decision will give the international community the wrong idea.

The appellation for the body of waters, called the “East Sea” by Koreans and the “Sea of Japan” by the Japanese, has long been a source of tension between the two neighboring countries who have often collided over history and territorial issues.

Facing difficulty in having “East Sea” as the only international appellation, the South Korean government announced over the weekend that it has suggested to an international organization to have two official names for the waters.

While the government says it was a “practical and inevitable decision,” the general public here appears to feel differently.

“Saying we are okay with both titles will give Japan, as well as the international society, the wrong idea,” an Internet user posted on the local news website Sunday.

A government official said the decision “was made under a practical need to prevent the sole use of the name the ‘Sea of Japan.’”

“We will be making increased diplomatic efforts to expand the use of both names overseas,” the official said, asking not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media on the issue.

The International Hydrographic Organization has been moving to unify the official appellation of the waters as the Sea of Japan and have Seoul’s opinion as reference, according to the government.

Korea was asked to make official its position by May 2 by the organization, which aims to draw up its final report on the issue by June, the government said.

The IHO has previously designated hydrographic names throughout the world in 1929, 1937 and 1953.

North Korea’s position on the issue was not immediately made known, but diplomatic sources here say the communist state is firm on pushing the East Sea as the only name for the waters.

Last week, Pyongyang suggested that historians of the two Koreas meet to discuss the issue some time later this month, an offer Seoul accepted.

Korea, victim to Japan’s 1910-45 brutal colonial rule, officially named the waters the East Sea and has been striving to promote it as the official title.

The naming of the waters is a sensitive issue for Korea, as it continues to battle Tokyo’s attempt to lay territorial claims over the Korean islets of Dokdo that lie in rich fishing grounds in the East Sea.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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