The United States military has been the target of the ire of South Korean nationalists for their use of the “Sea of Japan” name in its exhibit to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire. As part of its exhibit, the Pentagon has shown maps of the battles that happened during the Korean Peninsula conflict from 1950 to 1953 where the body water between the peninsula and the Japanese archipelago was labeled as the “Sea of Japan” instead of the preferred name for the body of water that Koreans now want to use, which is “East Sea” or Donghae in the Korean language.
The U.S. military’s exhibition is one of the top crowd drawers in the commemoration that is expected to bring in around 100,000 visitors. But a member of the Korean press have noted 10 exhibition items, including six large maps that use the name “Sea of Japan” for the body of water, but not mentioning at all the Korean preferred name. There has been a strong push from the Korean government and many Korean nationalist groups to persuade international organizations even to just begin using both names, as the Japanese-inclined name arouses memories of the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula, a time that still comes between the two nations even in present bilateral relations. It is a point of indignation for the Koreans that the U.S. officially still uses only “Sea of Japan” as a name for the body of water.
Critics are saying that the United States would have taken steps to address the Sea of Japan reference, if only Seoul has made its position clear on the matter. A Pentagon official involved in organizing the exhibition made a statement saying that geographical names in its exhibits are based on “official notations” used by the U.S. government. He added that when the show was being prepared, there were no objections from Seoul. A large number of Korean government officials attended the opening of the exhibit on June 18, including Seoul’s ambassador to Washington Ahn Ho-young, Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Chung Seung-jo and Korean National Assembly Policy Committee Chairman Kim Jung-hoon. It now appears that this has been slip-up by both sets of officials from Seoul and Washington, who forgot to look at the details and missed the controversial naming issue.
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