The Virginia state Senate passed a bill last Thursday stipulating that all future textbooks approved by the state Board of Education that make reference to the Sea of Japan must contain language indicating that it is also known as the East Sea. The bill still needs to be voted on by the state House of Delegates and, if passed, signed into law by Virginia’s new governor, Terry McAuliffe. The House is expected to vote on its version of the bill sometime in February. The new rule will go into effect as of July 1 if both the House and the governor approve it.
The Senate version of the bill, known as SB2, can be viewed here. The House bill, HB11, can be viewed here. Both bills were initially filed in November 2013 and were subsequently referred to each chamber’s Committee on Education for consideration, where they were approved for consideration by the full legislature. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill were sponsored by representatives from both parties, many of whom represent districts in northern Virginia with large Korean American constituencies. During the Virginia gubernatorial campaign in 2013, both Terry McAuliffe and his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, voiced their support for changing the way Virginia text books discuss that sea in response to questions from Voice of Korean Americans, a group founded specifically to promote the adoption of the East Sea label.
The body of water, which stretches from the east coast of the Korean peninsula to the west coast of Japan, is designated as the Sea of Japan by the International Hydrographic Organization, the global arbiter of maritime names and labels. Both the White House and the US State Department only recognize the Sea of Japan label, conforming to the guidelines established by the US Board on Geographic Names, though the State Department has acknowledged that the Republic of Korea prefers the East Sea designation.
Japanese and Korean interests have both made efforts to lobby in Richmond for their respective sides of the debate. Besides Voice of Korean Americans lobbying on behalf of the bills, the Japanese government has hired lobbyists of its own to fight the legislation and Japanese Ambassador to the US, Kenichiro Sasae, recently visited Richmond to meet Governor McAuliffe.