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Current Affairs

National Affairs

Dokdo & East Sea

Checking Points

 Q1. Why do world maps feature the designation 'Sea of Japan' more frequently than 'East Sea'?

Based on Korea's use of the designation "East Sea" for over two thousand years, and based on its current use by 50 million Koreans, the Korean government has actively sought to internationally establish "East Sea" as the proper designation. However, the reality remains that "Sea of Japan" is currently more widely used in world maps and official documents of various countries.

Sea of Japan became widely used in the late 19th century when production of world maps (in their current form) began and when Japan was rising as a great power in Asia. Thus, the mapping of a sea area after Japan is closely connected to Japan's international influence during this period.

The key factor accelerating the international use of Sea of Japan was the International Hydrographic Organization's (IHO) publication of "Limits of Oceans and Seas" in 1929. The "Limits of Oceans and Seas" established the boundaries and designations of seas all over the world, and included "Sea of Japan" as the sole designation of the east sea region. Since Korea remained under Japan's colonial rule during the time of the book's publication, Korea had no opportunity to assert the fairness of using "East Sea" instead. In the absence of Korea's representative during the IHO's general meeting, the east sea area was designated as Sea of Japan.

At the time of the second publication of "Limits of Oceans and Seas" in 1937, Korea remained under Japanese colonial rule, and at the book's third publication in 1953, Korea was embroiled in the Korean War. The sole designation of Sea of Japan continued in the revised version, further strengthening adherence to this designation. This process has led to the designation of the east sea region as Sea of Japan on many world maps today.

However, as a result of Korea's active publicity campaign in the past 15 years to promote the use of "East Sea," the designation of East Sea has expanded, mainly in maps and publications produced by the private sectors and in the press of various countries. There has been an upward trend in the proportion of world maps produced by private companies marked with "East Sea/Sea of Japan," steadily rising from 2.8 percent in 2000 to 23.8 percent in 2007.

Q2. Why is the designation of 'East Sea' proper?

Many historical documents show that Koreans have used the name "East Sea" for over two thousand years. Furthermore, East Sea was used 700 years before Japan was officially adopted as a country name. Accordingly, East Sea holds greater historical legitimacy compared to Sea of Japan.

From a geographical perspective, since East Sea is a designation currently used by 75 million South and North Koreans, prioritizing the indigenous name complies with the principle governing the establishment of geographical names. Thus, it is proper for world maps to be marked with East Sea.

Furthermore, the east sea region lies adjacent to four countries consisting of South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Russia. Rather than adopting the name of one particular country, it is necessary for all countries concerned to agree upon a name. Until an agreement is formed, maps must simultaneously adopt all names currently in use. The United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN), which handles problems concerning standardization of geographical names, advises that in cases of conflict over geographical names of landforms jointly owned by several countries, all names in use must be simultaneously adopted until an agreement is reached among countries concerned. Thus, in light of such international norms, it is proper to use East Sea and Sea of Japan simultaneously.

Q3. Why was Sea of Japan more frequently used in ancient western maps?

The East Sea region was introduced to world maps from the early 16th century when Westerners who explored the East began producing maps. Western maps produced from this period to the early 19th century show a variety of names for the waters between Korea and Japan, including Sea of Korea, Eastern Sea, Sea of China and Sea of Japan.

Overall, results of research conducted on ancient western maps show that names relating to Korea such as "Sea of Korea" was used frequently between the 16th and 18th centuries, while from the late 18th to early 19th centuries, maps produced by key European nations frequently used "Sea of Japan." Based on these findings, Japan asserts that Sea of Japan was established internationally from the early 19th century. However, it is misleading to argue that Sea of Japan is internationally accepted based merely on evidence showing greater use of Sea of Japan in ancient maps of specific periods.

A precise assessment of designations in ancient maps covering the entire world is an especially difficult task. Therefore, deriving a conclusion from only incomplete research is improper. Furthermore, even if it is assumed that more maps among those published in the early 19th century used Sea of Japan than other names, maps published during this period had no designations for many bodies of water, providing evidence that specific names were yet to be settled.

Accordingly, the use of a variety of names for the east sea area in ancient maps shows that any particular designation was not the only correct name for the area.

Q4. Isn't the name 'East Sea' derived from a compass direction of one particular country?

According to Samguksagi records, the name East Sea was used from 50 B.C. Reference to East Sea is also made in King Gwanggaeto's Stele, erected during the King Jangsu period of Goguryeo that extended to the Manchurian region. From this evidence, it can be inferred that the name East Sea refers to the east of the Eurasian continent rather than east of the Korean Peninsula.

As evidenced by various traditions, tales, songs and historical records related to the East Sea, the name East Sea does not relate to a compass direction, but rather took hold as a proper noun in the course of two thousand years of history.

Q5. Are there any international norms applicable in similar cases of conflict between countries over geographical designations?

In cases of conflict over different uses of geographical designations for an area that concerns two or more countries, applicable international standards include resolutions by the UN and the IHO.

○ Resolution by the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (adopted in 1977):
- The Resolution advises that, as a general principle in world map production, if countries are unable to agree upon a single geographical name for geographical areas that are under the sovereignty of, or are partitioned between, two or more countries, the different names in use should all be accepted.
○ Resolution by the IHO (adopted in 1974):
- The Resolution advises that in case different names are used for landforms owned jointly by two or more countries, the countries involved must first strive toward agreement on a single name, and in case of failure to reach an agreement, the different names should be simultaneously used. 

  Based on resolutions by international organizations calling for simultaneous use of names in case of conflict, the Korean government has strongly urged the UN and IHO to apply the resolutions to the East Sea conflict. However, Japan has asserted that the resolutions are not applicable to the naming of the East Sea, arguing that there is no conflict surrounding the naming of the East Sea. 

Q6. What are the Korean government's efforts to expand the use of East Sea internationally?

After its decision to promote the use of East Sea in 1992, the Korean government has operated a negotiation body at all times, and is campaigning for revisions to erroneous naming, targeting relevant international organizations, state governments, academic bodies, the press, map producers and publishers.

In particular, after Korea's entry into the UN, the government has continually raised the East Sea issue at relevant international meetings, including the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names and IHO general meetings. At the same time, the government has devoted much effort into directing the international community's attention toward the fairness in using the East Sea designation.

At present, the existence of a difference between Korea and Japan over the naming of the East Sea area is officially acknowledged in relevant international meetings. In particular, discussions on East Sea during the 17th IHO General Meeting held in 2007 were significant, as consensus expanded on the fairness of the use of "East Sea." Furthermore, publication of the revised edition of "Limits of Oceans and Seas," which contained Sea of Japan as the sole designation, was temporarily suspended.

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