S Korea and Japan clash over sea's name in Virginia textbooks

File images of the islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan Image copyright AP
Image caption South Korea and Japan don't just argue about the name of the sea - but also about an island grouping in the middle of it

An argument about what to call the sea between South Korea and Japan has spread to the United States.

Virginia's house of delegates has passed a bill requiring all school textbooks to include the Korean name for the stretch of water.

In Japan it is known as the Sea of Japan and in South Korea as the East Sea.

The dispute over the sea's name stems from an argument between the two Asian countries about history.

Reasonable claim?

The vote in Virginia was a hotly contested battle between Japan and South Korea, revealing the intensity with which these two neighbours argue over the recent past.

The Japanese government hired a lobby firm to help it.

Japan's ambassador to the US, Kenichiro Sasae, also wrote to the state Governor Terry McAuliffe, warning that if the bill was passed it could damage economic ties between Virginia and Japan.

But many Korean-Americans - there are more than 80,000 in Virginia - lobbied for their name to be included in history textbooks. In the weeks before the vote they travelled to the state capital, Richmond, to push their claim at a series of rallies.

Ultimately, South Korea's view prevailed, the house of delegates approved the proposed legislation with a vote of 81-15.

"We understand that Virginia accepted the claim because it is a reasonable one," said South Korean foreign ministry spokesman, Cho Tai-young.

But Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said his country would continue to lobby for the title "Sea of Japan" to be acknowledged globally.

"The Sea of Japan has been the internationally accepted appellation, including [by] the United States government," he added.

The bill has already been passed by Virginia's senate and now awaits the final approval of the governor, who has indicated he will sign it into law.

South Korea objects to the name "Sea of Japan" because it says it became widely used at a time when Japan ruled Korea as a colony.

The two countries also contest ownership of an island group in the middle of it, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

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