Japan on Monday failed in a bid to establish that revised guidelines for international mapmakers use only the name "Sea of Japan" for the body of water between Korea and Japan.
The majority of members at the International Hydrographic Organization's general assembly in Monaco rejected Japan's bid for the single entry in a new edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas," the standard reference for map production. The last revision was made in 1953.
Korea wants the reference work to include both the Korean name "East Sea" and "Sea of Japan."
According to Korean government representatives at the meeting, Japan proposed to make only partial changes to the latest revision along lines that were agreed so far, leaving "Sea of Japan" as the sole name. But when it put the proposal to the vote, all other members either voted against or abstained.
This has led to forecasts that the current general assembly will not be able to sign off on the fourth edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas." "We will discuss using both 'East Sea' and 'Sea of Japan,'" until Friday, a Korean government official said. "Our primary objective is to oppose the publication of the fourth edition with only the name 'Sea of Japan.'"
Korean representatives sought to convince other IHO member countries to refer to the ocean by both names, which is common around the world. But Tokyo claims that "Sea of Japan" is the more commonly used name and the use of dual names would lead to confusion.
The U.S. officially backs a single name but is apparently more flexible when it comes to the revision. "The U.S. is saying that Korea and Japan should reach an agreement on the issue, which is a positive sign," the official said.
The IHO's working group said "Limits of Oceans and Seas" must be revised soon, since the current edition contains many errors and is based on outdated regulations and can no longer serve as an international reference. "We can't make any predictions," said Paik Ji-ah, South Korea's chief delegate to the meeting held every five years. "But since there are many member countries that understand our stance, we are trying our best to promote the use of 'East Sea.'"
The stalemate has caused criticism over the efficacy of the IHO. Chinese delegates even proposed scrapping the existing edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas" as a global reference.
Meanwhile, the head of a Korean activist group has arrived in Monaco and said there are errors in the delineation of the body of water in the existing edition. "The present edition does not specify the boundaries of the Sea of Japan, so that name is basically invalid," said Kim Shin of the East Sea Forum. Kim said it does not clearly specify where the Sea of Japan ends and Korea's West Sea begins.