SEOUL — South Korean officials have asked the United States to change the name of a body of water used in a new Pentagon exhibit on the Korean War, the latest attempt in an ongoing quest to erase any symbol of Japanese dominance over the body of water that lies between the two countries.
According to South Korean media reports, the exhibit has at least 10 instances in which the body of water between South Korea and Japan is called the “Sea of Japan” instead of the “East Sea,” the name preferred by Seoul.
South Korea asked the U.S. in June to make the change, and U.S. officials said they would consider it, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman said Monday.
It was not immediately clear if South Korea has formally requested the name change, though several South Korea media reported that Seoul plans to file an official request for the change.
The Pentagon’s permanent exhibit — opened in June to commemorate this summer’s 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended combat — includes photographs, videos, weapons and other relics from the war.
The Sea of Japan designation has long rankled South Koreans, who view it as a symbol of Japanese imperialism and a reminder of a 35-year Japanese colonization that ended in 1945. Other unresolved tensions related to the occupation frequently make headlines, particularly what South Koreans view as Japan’s refusal to fully acknowledge and apologize for its use of sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women,” during that period.
Seoul and Tokyo also dispute ownership of two rocky islets, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, located between the two countries. Some South Koreans believe Japan’s refusal to give up its claim to the islets is a sign that it secretly wants to reconquer the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea has previously complained about the U.S. military’s use of the “Sea of Japan,” including a formal complaint filed by the MND earlier this year by USFK over a reference to it in a 7th Fleet press release. The U.S. military calls the body of water the Sea of Japan because it is the name recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
South Korea has previously asked the U.S. to at least use both names in referring to the sea.
The International Hydrographic Organization, the international organization responsible for naming bodies of water, last year rejected South Korea’s request that the sea be known both as the Sea of Japan and the East Sea. That decision means the name will stand at least until the IHO meets again in 2017.