RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - The state of Virginia on Thursday approved a bill requiring the Korean name - East Sea - for the Sea of Japan to be included in new school textbooks, clearing the last legislative hurdle for an initiative fiercely contested by two of America’s closest allies.
In a 81-15 vote, the House handed a victory to campaigners among Virginia’s estimated 82,000 Korean-Americans and the South Korean government, more than 7,000 milesaway. Virginia’s Senate has already approved the bill.
The two-line bill requiring “that all text books approved by the Board of Education ... when referring to the Sea of Japan, shall note that it is also referred to as the East Sea” needs approval by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, who spoke in favor of the Korean view during his election campaign last year.
Thursday’s vote follows intense lobbying not only by Korean-Americans but the governments of South Korea and Japan over the name for the sea that separates their countries.
Peter Y. Kim, a Virginia resident and president of the Voice of Korean Americans, said he hoped what happened in Virginia would spread.
“I hope that other Korean Americans in other states will try to correct their textbooks,” he said. “It’s not just good for Korean-American children ... it’s good for all Americans.”
Japan’s campaign has included warnings that Japanese investment in Virginia could be hurt by a negative outcome, while Japanese officials have voiced concern that what they call a “test case” could spark similar campaigns elsewhere.
Relations are already frayed between Seoul and Tokyo after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited a shrine to former military leaders that South Korea said showed a lack of contrition for Japan’s imperialist past.
The name “Sea of Japan” is widely accepted outside of Korea. But it is a source of bitterness for Koreans that the usage became standard worldwide while Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, after the International Hydrographic Organization, or IHO, published its definitive “Limits of the Oceans and the Seas” in 1929.
Japan argues that “Sea of Japan” is recognized by the United Nations and most big states, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and China. A long Korean campaign has failed to gain much traction.
Writing by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Gunna Dickson