South Korea has issued a formal complaint to the United States Defense Department about the U.S. military’s designation of the body of water between Japan and the Korean peninsula as the “Sea of Japan“, which the South Korean government is pursuing a change in international naming standards for the body of water to be called “East Sea”.
The South Korean government took issue and was provoked by a news article about the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet — specifically about the carrier U.S.S. Nimitz which was participating in a joint exercise with South Korean naval vessels earlier this week — in the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, which was published on Thursday. The initial news release used the “Sea of Japan” as the location of the exercise. After the formal complaint from South Korea, the news article was rewritten to say that the exercises took place in “international waters east of Korea.”
For the government of South Korea, the name “Sea of Japan” is a painful reminder of the period in its history from 1910 to 1945 when Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula. The trouble with the United States stems from the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which chose to use the name “Sea of Japan” for the specific body of water, and so the U.S. military is obliged to use the name in its operations and communications. “We wish that the U.S. used only ‘the East Sea.’ But, if that’s too hard to do, we want the U.S. to at least use both names,” a South Korean government spokesperson said during a similar incident a year ago. “We’ve asked them about it frequently, and whenever the subject comes up, the problem is still not fixed,” the spokesperson added.
Japan has also argued that the body of water has been traditionally called “Sea of Japan” for hundreds of years, and the Japanese government’s new ocean policy calls for an assertion that the name “Sea of Japan” be established as the only globally accepted name for the body of water.