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Virginia Governor McAuliffe Signs East Sea Labeling Bill into Law

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Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has signed a bill that will affect all textbooks approved by the Virginia Board of Education after July 1st of this year. This bill was first passed by the state senate in January and approved by the House of Delegates on March 5th. The new law requires that all textbooks that make reference to the Sea of Japan must contain language indicating that it is also known as the East Sea.

The Ambassador of Japan, Kenichiro Sasae, visited Governor McAuliffe in January in an effort to dissuade him from signing the bill, but McAuliffe did state during his election campaign last fall that he would support such a bill if it came to his desk once elected.

The East Sea labeling requirement is seen as a victory for Korean Americans, who have argued that the Sea of Japan name comes from the period of Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century. This year has already seen similar bills come up in Georgia and New York, both of which have sizable Korean American communities. The bill currently under consideration in New York will allow each of the state’s school districts to implement the change independently, whereas Virginia’s law makes the change mandatory for all textbooks statewide.

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.

Virginia’s bill, which can be viewed here, passed the senate by a vote of 32-4, and passed the house by a vote of 82-16.