South Korea Claims Exclusive Use of ‘East Sea’, Demands Vietnam Drop Name for Its Own East Sea
(Seoul, South Korea) – A diplomatic spat is brewing between two erswhile Asian friends over the exclusive use of the name ‘East Sea’ to refer to the body of water east of their respective territories.
“There is only one East Sea,” said the South Korean Foreign Ministry announcement, “and it’s the one east of the Korean peninsula, not east of Vietnam. We have been using this name since ancient times when other Asian peoples didn’t yet have the concept of ‘the direction from which the sun rises'. We therefore urge our Vietnamese counterparts to refrain from using ‘East Sea’ to refer to other seas, except for Korea’s East Sea, erroneously known elsewhere as ‘Sea of Japan’.”
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, in turn, promptly rejected South Korea’s demand. “East Sea is the body of water on the eastern side of Vietnam and nowhere else,” said its spokesman Nguyen Kim. “We have been calling this sea the ‘East Sea’ a thousand years before other Asians were eating kimchi.”
South Korea has been actively lobbying the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) by surreptitiously gifting its members prodigious bags of kimchi to rename the Sea of Japan as ‘East Sea’, insisting that the name ‘Sea of Japan’ became commonplace only when it was under Japanese rule and couldn’t produce enough of those foul-smelling, fermented vegetables to influence the naming of this body of water.
On the other hand, Vietnam also has its own East Sea, the name it uses for the South China Sea, where the disputed Spratley Islands are located, a number of which it occupies.
Image: Southeast Asia map showing Vietnam's East Sea
“The name East Sea is embedded in our culture,” says Nguyen Tag, a well-known Vietnamese historian. “There are many Vietnamese sayings that contain ‘the East Sea’, like, ‘A thirsty couple of husband and wife is capable of draining dry the East Sea’, meaning they can achieve anything they want to if they’re sufficiently hydrated,” Tag said.
While Vietnam does not lobby the IHO to change the name of South China Sea (it produces negligible amounts of kimchi), it refers to the sea exclusively as ‘East Sea’ in its official publications and press reports, confusing Google News readers and riling South Korea, which believes the use of two ‘East Seas’ so close to each other in this crowded part of Asia undermines its lobbying efforts for the Sea of Japan name-change.
Confusingly, what the Vietnamese call the East Sea and is internationally known as South China Sea, is in turn called “West Philippine Sea” by the Philippines, another Spratley-Island-claimant and frequent trouble-maker in the region.
All these East-South-West naming regarding this “Chinese sea” is indeed confusing, according to Chinese scholar Xin Lin. She proposes the neutral ‘Nine-Dash Line Sea’, which she claims should be acceptable for all parties.
In an email, Japanese journalist Keisuke Yamada refused to be drawn to the South China Sea naming dispute but commented that “‘Sea of Japan’ is the only internationally accepted name of the body of water between the Korean peninsula and the Japanese archipelago. The only ‘East Sea’ we Japanese know is the Pacific Ocean, and it is not proper to call it ‘East Sea’ just because it lies east of our country. Besides, it is really an ocean not sea and it already has an internationally recognized name, which is Pacific Ocean.”
Regional opinion-makers opine that the South Korea-Vietnam East Sea naming dispute is not going away anytime soon, as other naming disputes in this region full of territorial disputes.