Roh Proposed New Name for East Sea to Japan

    January 09, 2007 09:11

    In a long-running patriotic spat between Korea and Japan, President Roh Moo-hyun proposed renaming the body of water that divides them the “Sea of Peace”, it emerged Monday. That suggests Korea has effectively abandoned hopes of establishing the name “East Sea” for the waters, which Tokyo and many other countries call the “Sea of Japan.” President Roh proposed the compromise -- some would say surrender -- in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam last November. It was not clear where the proposal originated, but with Cheong Wa Dae and the Foreign Ministry offering different explanations, it can be doubted whether the president discussed the issue in advance.

    Cheong Wa Dae told reporters Monday that Roh merely made an informal suggestion, saying that renaming the waters would lay the foundation for better dialogue between the two countries. The president proposed “Sea of Peace,” “Sea of Friendship” or “Sea of Reconciliation.” Roh mentioned the “symbolic” names in hopes that the two countries could build up mutual trust if they settle the dispute, which Roh believes is difficult to resolve, the presidential office said. The question what the sea is called as well as territorial claims from Japan over Korean islands within it have caused serious friction between the two countries for years.

    On Monday morning, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said there was nothing impromptu about the president’s proposal, which was made after internal discussion with his aides. But the official indicated there was no prior discussion with the Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. On Monday afternoon, however, the Foreign Ministry told reporters the idea of calling the waters the “Sea of Peace” dates back to the 1990s and it was therefore “not wrong” to say Roh had discussed the issue with the ministry in advance.

    Abe immediately rejected the proposal, a Japanese news agency reported. The Jiji Press wrote the Korean government has tried to rename the waters and asked international agencies to change the name. But it was the first time Korea to raise the issue in a summit with Japan. Jiji said Roh’s proposal would have “subtle effects” on relations between the two countries.

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