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[Editorial] Inappropriate Proposal

Posted January. 09, 2007 03:01,   


President Roh Moo-hyun reportedly proposed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the name of the East Sea be changed into the “Sea of Peace” or the “Sea of Friendship” at the bilateral summit on the sidelines of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in November in Vietnam. As controversy mounts, Cheong Wa Dae explained yesterday, “It was not an official proposal. It was a metaphoric and unofficial remark which meant that shift of perception and ideas is needed to address pending issues between the two countries in a broader dimension.” Nonetheless, it is hard to shed the impression that it was irresponsible and careless remark, considering the importance of the issue.

First, it is hard to understand how such a remark was made. A Cheong Wa Dae official said, “The president had consulted (with officials) and, before that, he had often talked about it at closed-door meetings in Cheong Wa Dae.” But it is not an issue that the president can bring up after just some “light reviews” with his aides.

The East Sea is marked as the “Sea of Japan” on 97 percent of world maps because the Japanese robbed the original name during its colonial rule over Korea. Therefore, apart from whether it is right or wrong to change the name, the president should have in-depth discussions with related government ministries and expert groups and seek public consensus first.

Japan will by no means accept such a proposal as well. If President Roh thought otherwise or brought up the issue even if he knew how Japan would respond, that is tantamount to the culmination of amateurism, which shows a lack of diplomatic creativity and strategy. That is because this demonstrates that Korea takes lightly the marking of the East Sea with great historic and symbolic importance as if it is just another chapter of its history to be corrected.

The abrupt proposal to change the name of the sea throws cold water onto the efforts by the private sector, which has strived for promoting the correct marking of the East Sea in the international arena. It also goes against the official stance of the Korean government, which has advocated marking the sea as the East Sea since 1991. Worse yet, Japan is highly likely to take advantage of the proposal in numerous negotiations with Korea.

Shifting the name of the East Sea is not only important issue in itself but also an issue related, directly or indirectly, to ownership of the Dokdo islets, official name of the seabed of the East Sea and the border of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We cannot leave those pending issues serving as an obstacle to normalization of the relationship with Japan, but we cannot approach them in an indiscreet manner either. We should resolve those issues through sufficient discussions in consideration of history and public sentiment as well as national interests, even if it takes time.