This is what happens when you write in the area of Japanese-Korean relations. Pretty much everybody hates you, because you don’t tell them what they want to hear, and then maximalists come out of the woodwork to, as Robert Farley aptly put it, “explore Japanese-Korean animosity one angry e-mail at a time.” As I’ve argued before, there’s little domestic cost to the either party for the most outrageous rhetoric, so this just goes on and on. Given that intractability, the Obama administration’s big idea to untangle this – sending embarrassingly unqualified socialite donor Caroline Kennedy to be ambassador to Japan – is cringe-worthy. So why not call Tina Turner? She’s a celebrity too. And Aunty Entity is the kind of no-nonsense external ref this conflict needs. (Bad 80s references can fix everything!) Anyway…
The other day I posted how the Korean government leaned on me to alter the nomenclature in my writing – from the ‘Sea of Japan’ to the ‘East Sea.’ I don’t exactly stand on this point. I can’t actually say for sure if I use the expression ‘Sea of Japan’ much. But now, I wouldn’t change just to oppose the highly inappropriate arm-twisting of academics by the state. And then a few days ago, I got one my most creative hate-mails (from a Japanese) in awhile. Both letters follow the jump.
Here’s that Korean government letter first:
I came across your Asian Security Blog and read your post, “Why don’t Korea & Japan Align?”. Because of your interest in current affairs and issues in Asia, our communications firm is reaching out, on behalf of the Korean Consulate General, to inform you about an issue that you and your readers need to know about.
The Republic of Korea is asking the US government and map publishers to use the name “East Sea” together with the “Sea of Japan” when referring to the body of water located between the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago, over which both Japan and Korea have jurisdiction. This body of water has been called East Sea for over 2,000 years – you can read the historical background here: http://bit.ly/EastSeaMaps
Why is this important and why should this issue matter to your readers?
* When dealing with matters of diplomacy, a name reflects how a country is viewed.
* Support for Korea’s position is gaining momentum among many internationally respected cartographers and the media. National Geographic, Rand McNally, The Economist, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Le Monde have all begun using both names concurrently.
* Other evidence of growing support for Korea’s position includes a vox populi petition to the White House with more than 100,000 signatures, and a vote at an international organization’s recent conference that denied Japan’s proposal to use only the Sea of Japan name.
Will you consider posting about this on your blog? Links to videos can be found at the bottom of this message, plus you can find additional information here: http://bit.ly/EastSea Please feel free to use any of this information found here in your postings.
Thanks, Robert! If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact me.
Parter International/Tuvel Communications Team
on behalf of Korean Consulate General in New York
Video: The Name, “East Sea” – http://bit.ly/Lu5puJ
Video: The World Map is Changing: Korea’s East Sea – http://bit.ly/JJSYIF”
I would not otherwise pay attention to this issue, but given the letter, I’ll respond briefly: I must say I find this ridiculous. The ‘East Sea’ is completely non-descriptive. At least the ‘Sea of Japan’ actually provides some basic geographic information (i.e., a sea near Japan), while the ‘East Sea’ could be any sea east of anywhere. To demand that the world use that term insists that the rest of the planet view bodies of water from a Korean perspective, which is a preposterous request. On its own, the name itself implies absolutely nothing. This is the US Government’s position also. Note that Germany has a similar issue. The ‘Baltic Sea’ in German is called the ‘Ostsee’ or East Sea. But no one in Germany insists belaboring global bodies and news media on that point. In a globalized world, such traditional names are too information-deficient to be used internationally.
It also sets a terrible political precedent over geographic naming as some kind of zero-sum, semi-imperial competition. I know Japanese who have told me that if Korea succeeds in convincing world bodies and atlas companies on this point, then Japan will start to push to rename the Korea Strait. Consider all the other possibilities: Should Israel demand the Arabian Sea be changed? Should Pakistan demand a re-naming of the Indian Ocean? Oh god, please stop that before it gets started.
But this whole flap wouldn’t be complete without some ken-kan from across the strait. Symmetric loathing of my blog is required! :
spread these videos, you failed idiot ! you kimchis are finished…
Needless to say, I didn’t write back.
I can’t access those videos. They are blocked in Korea, but judging from the comments, it’s pretty rank stuff, back to creepy comfort women-denialism and all that.
If I had to guess, that email was a response to this post where I criticized the creepy nationalists in the corners of the Abe coalition denying the comfort women. I don’t think Abe is as bad as Koreans do; there’s been a lot of irresponsible exaggeration in the Korea media, which seems to be finally dawning on the far-too-alarmist Chosun Ilbo. But I do broadly agree with the moral case Korea makes against Japan on the comfort women and Yasukuni. For as much as I think Koreans fly off the handle way too much on Japan, they are generally right on these two core issues. So I guess that makes me a ken-kan failed idiot or something.
I’ve been called a lot of things over the years in the comments and in hate-emails – a Muslim, a Sinophile, a traitor (to America and/or Korea), every variation of idiot you can think, an orientalist, an American imperialist, a mouthpiece of the IMF/USFK/the American national security state, and so on. But I gotta give this guy credit – a ‘kimchi propagandist’ is a pretty creative. Gotta laugh out of that one. Maybe sometime, the Duck should have a post-series on hate-mail, outrageous comments, external arm-twisting and so on. I’m laughing, but sometime it can become pretty serious harassment.
Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.