Historically, the sea area between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago, known as the 'Sea of Japan', had been referred to by various names. Even though no single name had been consistently used to designate this body of water until the 19th century, designations containing references to Korea were predominantly found on maps. It's worthy of note that as late as 1870 even many Japanese map referred to this body of water as the 'Sea of Chosun(Korea)' instead of 'Sea of Japan.'
It was not until the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) that the term “Sea of Japan” gained wider acceptance. The active promotion by Japan and its enhanced political stature in the world scene during the first half of the 20th century led to the gradual replacement of such names as “Sea of Korea”, “East Sea”, or “Oriental Sea” with the term “Sea of Japan.”
This process culminated in the publication of the first edition of “Limits of Oceans and Seas,” following a decision by the 1929 Monaco Conference of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). This book, which has since been used by cartographers all over the world as an authoritative reference for the designation of maritime features, employed the term “Sea of Japan” for the body of water in question. Yet, at that time under Japanese colonial rule, Korea was deprived of its sovereignty, and had no diplomatic representation on the global stage.
Apart from the historical validity of the use of the 'East Sea,'it is inappropriate to name a sea area surrounded by many countries after a single country. Lying between Korea and Japan and extending north toward Russia, the body of water in question is divided into either the territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the countries encircling it. There is no possible justification for naming the sea area after one particular country without the consent of the other surrounding countries.
Pending a final agreement on a common name for the sea in question, the Republic of Korea is of the view that, as an interim measure, both “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” should be used simultaneously. Indeed, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) resolutions endorse the principle of the simultaneous use of different names when countries sharing a geographical feature do not agree on a common name.
The concurrent use of both names by many internationally respected mapmakers is a clear indication that they fully accept the legitimacy of Korea's claims and have decided to endorse the relevant resolutions of the IHO and the United Nations.
Given the historical background of this sea area and the general principles and practices of international cartography, the Korean government calls for the names “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” to be used simultaneously until agreement on a single name is reached.
East Sea(Pamphlet) [PDF]
East Sea Issues [Video Clip]
- The East Sea, not the Sea of Japan(08:20)
- East Sea, a name lost from world maps(02:19)
- The world map is changing!(08:19)
Maps in English, published by the National Geographic Information Institute, Republic of Korea
Historically, the sea area between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese archipelago has been called the 'East Sea' in Korea for the past two thousand years. And currently 75 million Korean nationals are using the name. In this regard, it is the international practice in designating geographical names that primary consideration is given to the name the residents of the area in question use.
Apart from the historical validity of the name 'East Sea,' we deem it inappropriate to name the sea between Korea and Japan after a single country. Lying between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese archipelago and extending north toward Russia, the body of water in question is divided into either territorial waters or EEZ's of the encircling countries. In the absence of the consent of the encircling countries, it is not justifiable to name the sea after one particular country.
Given the historical background of this sea and the international practices in the designation of geographical names, Japan is not entitled to make any exclusive claim on the name of the sea area in question.
The sea area lying between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago was uncharted in the West until the voyages of discovery and exploration began in the early 16th century. On the maps published in the Western world from the 16th to the 19th century, various names for this sea, including the 'Sea of Korea', 'Sea of Joseon', 'Eastern Sea', 'Oriental Sea', 'Sea of China', and 'Sea of Japan' had been used.
Since an accurate survey of ancient maps around the world would be an extremely difficult task, it is not appropriate to draw conclusions from the results of a limited number of studies. However, a comprehensive review of a wide range of studies undertaken reveals that from the 16th to the early 18th century, names related to Korea were more frequently found, but from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, maps published by European countries started to use the name 'Sea of Japan' more often.
Japan uses this fact as a basis for the argument that the name 'Sea of Japan' was internationally established as of the early 19th century. But at that time there was no organization with the authority to determine the standard name of a particular sea area. So Japan's argument that the name 'Sea of Japan' was established internationally is not valid.
Furthermore, even if 'Sea of Japan' was used more than any other names on the maps published in the early 19th century, quite a number of maps did not include any names for the sea area in question. This shows, rather, that neither 'Sea of Japan' nor any other names related to Korea were in fact established at that time.
Therefore, the various references to the sea area in question on the ancient maps available demonstrate that no particular name can be recognized as being the only valid one.
In the case of a dispute regarding the term of a geographical area extending over two or more states' territories, the relevant UNCSGN resolutions and IHO technical resolutions can be applied.
- UNCSGN Resolution Ⅲ20 (adopted in 1977)
Considering the need for international standardization of names of geographical features that are under the sovereignty of more than one country or are divided among two or more countries,
1. Recommends that countries sharing a given geographical feature under different names should endeavor, as far as possible, to reach agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned;
2. Further recommends that when countries sharing a given geographical feature do not succeed in agreeing on a common name, it should be a general rule of international cartography that the name used by each of the countries will be accepted. A policy of accepting only one or some of such names while excluding the rest would be inconsistent in principle as well as inexpedient in practice. Only technical reasons may sometimes make it necessary, especially in the case of small-scale maps, to dispense with the use of certain names belonging to one language or another.
- IHO Technical Resolutions A.4.2.6 (adopted in 1974)
It is recommended that when two or more countries share a given geographical feature under a different name form, they should endeavor to reach agreement on fixing a single name for the feature concerned. If they have different official languages and cannot agree on a common name form, it is recommended that the name form of each of the languages in question should be accepted together for the charts and publications unless technical reasons prevent this practice on small scale charts e.g. English Channel/La Manche.
In accordance with the resolutions of the related international organizations, which recommend the simultaneous use of the names when there are naming disputes, Korea is strongly calling for both 'East Sea/Sea of Japan', to be used simultaneously until agreement is reached on a common designation. However, Japan insists that those resolutions are not applicable to the area in question, on the basis of the reasoning that there is no dispute over the naming of this sea area in question.
The Korean Government is actively working for broader international use of 'East Sea', emphasizing that 'East Sea' has been in use for more than 2,000 years, and is currently being used by 75 million Korean nationals. In reality, however, the name 'Sea of Japan' is more widely used in world maps and government documents.
This extensive use of 'Sea of Japan' is closely linked to the rise of Japan's international influence as an Asian power in the late 19th century, a time when a great many world maps which were very similar to current maps were produced.
Moreover, at the time the International Hydrographic Organization published the first edition of 'Limits of Oceans and Seas' in 1929, a major source of reference for the names of borders and waters around the world, Korea was under Japanese colonization. Korea was therefore deprived of the opportunity to assert the legitimacy of the name 'East Sea' to the international community. This also was a factor in the fact that 'Sea of Japan' quickly became an established term at the international level.
Since the name 'Sea of Japan' alone was included in the first edition of 'Limits of Oceans and Seas' in 1929, the name 'Sea of Japan' has been widely used. And many world maps currently use this term.
However, with the government efforts to restore the name for the last fifteen years, the name 'East Sea' has increasingly been used on a number of maps, and in various publications and media.
Japan's rationale for the use of the 'Sea of Japan' can be summarized into the following four points.
- 'Sea of Japan' is an internationally established term used in 95% of the maps published worldwide, and a change in the name will give rise to unnecessary confusion.
- 'Sea of Japan' is a term established by the West during the late 18th century and the early 19th century.
- The sea has been named 'Sea of Japan' in light of the geographical feature that the Japanese Archipelago separates the sea area in question from the Pacific Ocean. The fact that a sea carries the name of a country does not connote ownership over the area in question.
- Korea's claim regarding the term 'East Sea' stems from political considerations. In response to Japan's allegations, Korea's basic position is as follows :
- Historically, the name 'East Sea' has been in use for the past 2000 years by Korean people. Until the 19th century, various names including 'Korean Sea', 'Sea of Joseon' and 'Oriental Sea' had been used. There are therefore no grounds for Japan's argument that the name 'Sea of Japan' was internationally established. Indeed, it entered into wider usage only in the early 20th century when the IHO recognized 'Japan Sea' as the only name in the sea area in question.
- The fact that the name 'East Sea' used by 75 million South and North Koreans is not taken into due account is counter to the general principles of international cartography whereby the primary consideration is the name the residents in the neighboring countries of the area use.
- We do not insist on identifying the sea area in question as the 'Sea of Korea', the designation that many old maps published in the West had used. This is because it is inappropriate and indeed wrong to refer to a sea area surrounded by Korea, Russia, and Japan using the name of a particular country without the consent of the parties involved.
- There is no generally accepted methodology for naming seas on world maps. There are a variety of different cases, including concurrently using both names on the area in question on a basis of consensus, naming it after the land tits west or after the island separating the area from a main ocean. Considering the fact that the sea area in question is surrounded by four countries, it is rather neutral and appropriate to call it 'East Sea', meaning the east of the Eurasian continent. We would point here to the case of 'North Sea', where the parties concerned agreed to use a rather neutral reference in the face of a naming dispute.
- As there is clearly a dispute over the naming of the area between Korea and Japan, in accordance with the IHO and the UNCSGN resolutions which are the international standards for dealing with disputes over naming, the best approach is to use both names until the two sides reach an agreement.
The ROK government is devising and implementing various policies to ensure that 'East Sea', the English name of 'Donghae', becomes firmly established in the global community.
First of all, the Government continues to pursue consultations with governments of various countries on the legitimacy of the name 'East Sea' through diplomatic channels. In tandem with such efforts, through omnidirectional negotiations and promotional activities, the Government is striving to achieve the widespread use of 'East Sea' on world maps and in atlases, encyclopedias, school books and other foreign sources.
We are planning to publish promotional materials in English on the naming of the 'East Sea' and hold international seminars to raise international awareness of the legitimacy of the name 'East Sea'. We are also pursuing consultations with the United Nations and other international organizations.
For the last 15 years, the Korean Government and its nationals have continuously raised the issue of naming the 'East Sea' and have demonstrated the legitimacy of the name in the international community. As a result, more and more countries and related organizations are accepting the fact that there is a dispute over the naming of the 'East Sea' between Korea and Japan. Finally, it is clear that a number of prominent mapmakers, media companies and publishers, including the renowned Internet agencies worldwide, are using the dual designation of 'East Sea/Sea of Japan' in describing the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japanese Archipelago.
The practice of the UN Secretariat is to use, in the absence of an internationally agreed standard, the most widespread and generally recognized denomination.
The practice of the UN Secretariat is rather an expedient one, which has never been approved as the UN practice itself. Accordingly, there are no grounds for Japan's allegation that the UN authorized the name 'Sea of Japan' as the standard geographical term for the sea area in question.
The government of the Republic of Korea has consistently maintained the position that the policy of the UN Secretariat of using the name 'Sea of Japan' as the most common and widespread denomination for the body of water in question is unacceptable. It has been explicitly requesting that this be rectified in accordance with the UNCSGN resolution recommending the simultaneous use of the names until disputing states reach an agreement.
In response to the Korean government's request that it rectify its practice of using the name 'Sea of Japan', the UN Secretariat, calling for the reaching of agreement through negotiations between Korea and Japan, expressed its official position as follows:
- The UN practice of using, in the absence of an internationally agreed standard, the most widespread and generally recognized denomination is without any prejudice to the position of any Member State of the United Nations on a particular appellation and does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations. It goes without saying that the use of an appellation by the Secretariat based on the above-cited and established practice is without prejudice to any negotiations or agreements between the interested parties and should not be interpreted as advocating or endorsing any party's position, and can in no way be invoked by any party in support of a particular position in the matter.
1. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has placed an article entitled「The Policy of the United Nations Concerning the Naming of 'Sea of Japan'」on its official homepage (www.mofa.go.jp/policy/maritime/japan). The said article argues that the United Nations Secretariat has confirmed its policy that 'Sea of Japan' is a standard geographical term and further claims that the name 'Sea of Japan' is authorized by the United Nations. It is also stated that the United Nations Secretariat has explained that the use of a dual designation infringes the neutrality of the United Nations.
2. We feel impelled to point out that the description by the Japanese government of the UN Secretariat's position on the issue of the naming of the sea area in question is counter to the UN Secretariat's explanation on this sensitive issue. Furthermore, we are of the view that the Japanese government is intentionally misusing the UN Secretariat's position to strengthen its case for the sole use of the name 'Sea of Japan'.
3. In fact, the UN Secretariat has already clarified its position on the single use of 'Sea of Japan' to the Korean government as follows :
- The practice of the UN Secretariat is to use, in the absence of an internationally agreed standard, the most widespread and generally recognized denomination. This practice is without any prejudice to the position of any Member State of the United Nations on a particular appellation and does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations.
- The use of an appellation by the Secretariat based on the practice is without prejudice to any negotiations or agreements between the interested parties and should not be interpreted as advocating or endorsing any party's position, and can in no way be invoked by any party in support of a particular position in the matter.
4.In spite of the UN Secretariat's clarification, the Japanese government is purposely invoking the UN Secretariat's practice in support of its position. In addition, the Japanese government has seriously distorted the relevant facts. While it asserts that the name 'Sea of Japan' is authorized by the United Nations, the world body, not to speak of the UN Secretariat, has no such authority to standardize or authorize a geographical term. The UN Secretariat itself makes it clear that it uses, in the absence of an internationally agreed standard, the name 'Sea of Japan', which is the most widespread and generally recognized denomination. Such a statement by the UN Secretariat in itself represents an admission that no internationally agreed standard to apply to the sea area in question exists. Accordingly, the name 'Sea of Japan' can in no way be referred to as an appellation authorized by the UN.
5.The Government of the Republic of Korea has consistently maintained the position that the policy of the UN Secretariat of using the name 'Sea of Japan' as the most common and widespread denomination for the body of water in question until a negotiated solution is found by the parties concerned is unacceptable and has been explicitly requesting its rectification for the following reasons.
- First, in the case that there is a dispute regarding the appellation to be applied to a given geographical feature, the relevant resolution that should be invoked in the UN system is Resolution III/20 of the UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) adopted in 1977 which recommends that if countries sharing a given geographical feature fail to agree on a common designation, the name used by each of the countries concerned should be accepted. The import of the Resolution should be respected as an internationally established principle and the secretariats of the organizations in the UN system should adopt this principle.
- Second, considering that the UNCSGN and other international fora are discussing the appellation of the sea body in question and the UNCSGN is recommending the resolution of the dispute through dialogue between the parties concerned, the use by the UN Secretariat of a particular geographical term violates the cardinal principle of neutrality and impartiality of the Secretariat vis-a-vis all Member States.
- Third, the Chair's Summary of the 8th UNCSGN held in September 2002 states that “Individual countries cannot impose specific names on the international community and standardization can only be promoted when a consensus exists.” The Government of the Republic of Korea stresses therefore that the practice and position of the UN Secretariat also run counter to the direction adopted by the relevant international conferences
6.The naming of geographical features in the official documents of international organizations is a highly sensitive issue and should be based on agreement reached between the Member States concerned. Otherwise, the secretariats in question should respect the internationally agreed practices and principles which support the simultaneous use of the names claimed by the parties concerned.