Seoul has apparently had little success trying to get the international community to refer to the body of water between Korea and Japan as the "East Sea" rather than the "Sea of Japan." The U.S. was recently asked by a working group at the International Hydrographic Organization to present its position on the name and sent a formal letter saying it supports "Sea of Japan," a diplomat said Monday.
The diplomat said the U.K. takes the same position.
The government protested saying the U.S. is playing into Japan's hands, but Washington said the decision was made by a group of experts based on guidelines by the Board on Geographical Names. The U.S. has a single-name policy in designating bodies of water and is against using both "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan," as Korea had proposed.
Instead it supports "Sea of Japan" since that is the familiar name used since the early 20th century on maps around the world.
The IHO is asking individual countries to give their opinion on the names at it prepares the fourth revision to its "Limits of Oceans and Seas," which serves as the standard reference in map production. The working group at the IHO, composed of experts from 27 of the organization's 80 member countries, will deliberate and report to the body's 18th General Assembly next year.
Three Korean experts but only one Japanese are part of the working group. But if most of the other members support "Sea of Japan," the name could end up being chosen at next year's meeting.
"Sea of Japan" started being used in 1929. The IHO, which was launched in 1921, has issued three revisions to "Limits of Oceans and Seas" -- in 1929, 1937 and 1953. "Sea of Japan" was chosen due to intense lobbying by Japan after it colonized Korea.
The Korean government started promoting the "East Sea" moniker in 1992. The name became mandatory in Korea, and the government sought to get other countries to use both "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan" because use of the latter was so widespread. A government assessment showed that 28 percent of maps around the world use both names. The efforts appeared to bear fruit at the 2002 IHO General Assembly. The global body took note of the debate between Seoul and Tokyo and proposed leaving the name blank until the two sides reached some kind of agreement.
But when the proposal was put up for a vote among member nations, it was suddenly scrapped due to intense Japanese lobbying. It was not put to the vote at the 17th IHO General Assembly in 2007 and it remains uncertain whether any decision will be made at the next meeting in 2012.