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McAuliffe signs East Sea bill that pitted Korean Americans against Japan

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has quietly signed into law one of the most arcane but headache-inducing bills of the year, paving the way for a change in state textbooks that Northern Virginia’s Korean community pushed over vigorous objections from Japan.

McAuliffe (D) on Monday signed a bill that requires any newly purchased textbooks to note that the Sea of Japan is also known as the East Sea.

Korean American activists, who see the former name as a relic of Japanese imperialism, had sought the change. During last year’s governor’s race, they asked McAuliffe and his Republican rival, Ken Cuccinelli II, to pledge their support for the legislation. Both did so.

But not long after winning the race, McAuliffe got a letter from the Japanese Embassy, which said the proposed textbook change could jeopardize economic ties between the commonwealth and Japan, one of Virginia’s biggest trading partners and sources of foreign investment.

Caught between an important voting bloc and a major trading partner, McAuliffe and his top aides worked behind the scenes for a few weeks to kill the legislation. But McAuliffe eventually pulled out of the fight, and a Senate version of the bill made it to his desk. A version passed by the Republican-controlled House was killed by Senate Democrats.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.

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