(ATTN: CHANGES dateline; UPDATES with comments from South Korean politicians, U.S. ambassador in 8-15 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- Despite a growing furor among Koreans, the U.S. government formally confirmed a policy Monday of calling the waters between Korea and Japan the Sea of Japan.
Koreans are campaigning for the international community to recognize the waters as the East Sea or at least use both names. Korean people are encouraged by an increasing number of international organizations that use the two names together.
The State Department, however, reaffirmed that it authorizes only the name supported by Japan.
"The U.S. uses names decided by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the so-called BGN standard name for that body of water is the Sea of Japan," department spokesman Mark Toner said at a press briefing.
"I believe that we also use the terminology 'Sea of Japan,' which is the internationally recognized terminology," he added.
His comments were in response to an earlier report by Yonhap News Agency that the U.S. has advised the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) to name the waters the Sea of Japan instead of the East Sea.
The South Korean government filed a formal protest with the U.S. against the move, with South Korea's major Internet portals flooded with messages denouncing Washington.
Lawmakers urged the government to make greater efforts to convince the international community.
"The government should clearly convey to related countries and international organizations the point that territorial names made by imperialists during the colonial era should be corrected through a mutual agreement between neighboring nations to maintain world peace," Lee Joo-young, a chief policymaker of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), said during a party meeting.
"We have to clearly state to the U.S. government that our people are outraged and cannot contain our anger, and we should mobilize all diplomatic capabilities to correct this during the planned IHO meeting," he said.
GNP lawmaker Yoo Ki-june also said that the government should "sternly act" if Washington unilaterally made the decision in favor of Japan.
"There could be criticism that (South Korea) has responded too quietly," Yoo, a member of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, said in a radio interview. "Rather than quiet diplomacy, determined, strategic diplomacy is the right direction."
Earlier Tuesday, GNP leader Hong Joon-pyo met with U.S. ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens to ask for cooperation in persuading her government to use both names together.
"Naming (the East Sea) the Sea of Japan is a very important matter for the Republic of Korea," Hong said in a meeting at the National Assembly, referring to South Korea's official name. "It is not only about Korea-Japan relations but also about Korea's dignity."
Stephens said she would try to help her government better understand South Korea's viewpoint.
South Korea points out that the name Sea of Japan was unfairly established during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
A U.S. reporter attending the press briefing asked if it is U.S. policy to antagonize a key regional ally.
In July 2008, the U.S. stirred up similar controversy.
The government naming agency described Dokdo, a set of South Korean islets in the East Sea, as under "undesignated sovereignty" to reflect Japan's claim.
Following days of strong protests from Seoul, however, the U.S. reversed its decision and re-defined Dokdo as South Korean territory.
South Korean diplomats said then-President George W. Bush ordered the correction personally in consideration of relations with Seoul.
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