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IHO's expected new numerical system likely to help resolve East Sea naming dispute

All News 14:50 September 21, 2020

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- An international organization on maritime data is expected to adopt a decision later this year to refer to all seas by numbers, rather than specific names, officials said Monday, a move expected to affect a long-running dispute between South Korea and Japan over what to call the East Sea.

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) plans to brief its member states on the results of discussions about how to revise the "future of limits on oceans and seas," known as "S-23," at the upcoming general assembly slated for Nov. 16, according to foreign ministry officials and the IHO website.

At the assembly, IHO Secretary General Mathias Jonas is expected to ask members for consent on his proposal that calls for the development of a new dataset to designate global sea areas by "a system of unique numerical identifiers."

Under the existing S-23 standard used for world map production, the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and the island nation is identified as the "Sea of Japan," as registered by Japan in the early 1920s, when Korea was a Japanese colony.

Seoul has long campaigned for dual usage of its own name, the East Sea, arguing that Sea of Japan is a legacy of Tokyo's imperialistic past, including the 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

The proposal came after the IHO held informal consultations with concerned member states, including the two Koreas and Japan, last year but failed to reach a conclusion on the issue.

Member states are widely expected to adopt the proposal by consensus.

This undated image, captured from the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), a Seoul-based group that promotes South Korean history and culture, shows the East Sea that lies between South Korea and Japan. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Once implemented, the IHO proposal replacing the appellation with numbers is expected to help ease the dispute between Seoul and Tokyo on the naming of the East Sea.

The naming of the East Sea has long been a thorny issue between the two Asian neighbors, among others that stem from colonial history, particularly because Japan continues to lay territorial claims to the South Korea-controlled islets of Dokdo that lie in the East Sea.

Most member states, including South Korea, Japan and the United States, have positive views about the digitalization of global sea areas.

In the statement submitted to the IHO, South Korea expressed support for the new proposal on digital coordinates. It agreed that the existing S-23 is "outdated" and "is no longer suitable to serve as a valid standard for modern hydrography."

Japan said it understands the IHO efforts to modernize the hydrographic information and is "prepared to work cooperatively and constructively."


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