A geographic naming dispute between South Korea and Japan may soon become a congressional issue thanks to a competitive U.S. House race in Virginia this fall.
State Del. Barbara J. Comstock (R-Fairfax), vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R), promised Friday to introduce legislation recommending that other states follow Virginia’s lead and require that state textbooks note that the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea. It’s an important issue for Korean Americans stung by the reminder of Japanese imperialism.
“The Korean community is very pleased,” Peter Kim, an advocate who runs the group Voice of Korean Americans, said in a statement.
Comstock is facing John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, in the Nov. 4 general election. Foust also supports the East Sea designation, a spokesman said.
Comstock has been assiduously courting Korean American voters in the 10th District, a suburban seat with growing Asian and Latino populations.
The seemingly minor change became a major headache for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) this year. As the legislation gained steam among both Democrats and Republicans, officials from Japan began pressuring the governor to veto it or risk weakening ties with a powerful trading partner. Korean American activists hastily began their own campaign, reminding McAuliffe that he had promised to support the change on the campaign trail. After trying unsuccessfully to sink the bill, the governor quietly signed it into law. Similar bills have been pushed in New York and New Jersey.
Touting her support for the East Sea legislation in Richmond, Comstock described herself in a statement as a “chief co-patron” of the successful bill. That’s not quite accurate; Comstock was one of 16 sponsors, but not one of four chief co-sponsors of the House version of the legislation, identical to a successful Senate bill. A spokeswoman said the mistake was a staff error. A letter released by the campaign the day of the announcement also incorrectly suggested that the United Nations and the International Hydrographic Association support the name East Sea.
The day of her announcement, Comstock met with community leaders to celebrate South Korea’s independence day.
Eleven percent of the 10th District is Asian. Traditionally a swing group, Asian Americans have increasingly voted Democratic in recent years.