Virginia's Senate has already approved 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."
An affirmative vote in the House of Delegates would be a significant
victory for campaigners among Virginia's estimated 82,000
Korean-Americans and the South Korean government more than 7,000
The bill would still require 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.
Japan's campaign has included warnings that Japanese investment in
Virginia could be hurt by a negative outcome, while Japanese
officials have voiced worries 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
The Monaco-based IHO did not respond for a request for comment, but
the National Geographic Society in Washington said it began
including "East Sea" in parentheses after the Sea of Japan in its
maps in 1999 in response to growing international use of the term.
"In the absence of an international agreement, we feel a need to
inform our readers of this toponymic dichotomy," spokeswoman Kelsey
Flora said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported that Japan's ambassador to the United
States, Kenichiro Sasae, wrote to McAuliffe late last year urging
him to oppose the bill or risk damaging the strong economic
relationship between Japan and Virginia.
[to top of second column]
While only a 19,000 ethnic Japanese live in Virginia, Sasae pointed
out that Japan was the Southern state's second-largest foreign
investor, injecting almost $1 billion in the past five years. He
said Japanese firms employed about 13,000 people there.
"I fear ... the positive cooperation and the strong economic ties
between Japan and Virginia may be damaged if the bills are to be
enacted," the Post quoted the letter as saying.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported this month that Japan's
embassy agreed to pay the McGuireWoods consulting firm at least
$75,000 to lobby on its behalf.
The main sponsor of the bill, Democratic state Senator David
Marsden, reported receiving $7,600 last year from South Korea's
Foreign Ministry for a trip to Seoul, according to Virginia Public
Access Project, a nonprofit tracker of money in Virginia politics.
Marsden is a lawmaker from Fairfax County, which has a sizeable
Korean-American population. He told Watchdog.org that he hoped the
bill would send a "welcoming message." McGuireWoods confirmed it was
lobbying on behalf of the Japanese Embassy on the issue. The embassy
Peter Kim, head of the Voice of Korean Americans group, said
Japanese colonial rule was in the past.
"We don't care about that. We just care about Korean heritage,
Korean history. Fathers and mothers of Korean Americans strongly
feel that the name 'East Sea' ought to be taught in school," he
(Reporting and writing by David Brunnstrom;
additional reporting by
Ian Simpson; editing by Peter Cooney)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.