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(Yonhap Interview) Demand 'East Sea' use from consumer protection angle: VANK head

2017/02/21 14:11

By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- When a person buys a product and finds out it is defective, he or she would normally contact customer service and demand a new, unbroken replacement without thinking twice.

This basic consumer protection process is what civic group VANK considers the most effective approach in achieving one of its key missions: promoting the "East Sea" label when referring to the waters between Korea and Japan.

"Our volunteers are increasingly demanding map-related textbooks and services to adopt the 'Donghae' (East Sea) nomenclature not just as Koreans but as righteous consumers," said Park Gi-tae, head of VANK, or the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday.

Park Gi-tae, head of civic group VANK, or the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency before the opening of the "2017 National Brand Up Exhibition" at the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017. Park Gi-tae, head of civic group VANK, or the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency before the opening of the "2017 National Brand Up Exhibition" at the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017.

"People are contacting Lonely Planet and demanding the company rectify the expression or asking what the company's plans are on what they see as a 'defect' in the product they are using," Park said.

Currently, "Sea of Japan" is more widely recognized around the world, but a growing number of maps use East Sea along with the Japanese name. The rate of co-adoption stands at 28 percent, according to VANK.

Local historians say the sea's original name was the East Sea, which makes sense even for regional powers such as China and Russia. But the expression Sea of Japan became widely adopted starting in the 19th century.

Koreans believe the term is a legacy of Japan's imperialistic, revisionist past and East Sea is historically the correct name. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

VANK, through its 15,000 members, promotes East Sea through petitions to map producers, dictionaries and academic institutions around the world.

Before it sent a letter to the Google Maps site, the search engine used the term Sea of Japan. Google now uses both. The group's labor first bore substantive fruit in 2001, with the National Geographic Society acknowledging the issue and adopting the concurrent use of East Sea in its atlases.

In this file photo, VANK members protest in the front of Google Inc. headquarter in Mountain View, California, on Nov. 2, 2012, demanding the adoption of East Sea in the company's map service. (Yonhap) In this file photo, VANK members protest in the front of Google Inc. headquarter in Mountain View, California, on Nov. 2, 2012, demanding the adoption of East Sea in the company's map service. (Yonhap)

With an increasing number of young Koreans moving overseas to study, VANK's consumer protection-like movement is expected to gain momentum, according to Park.

"A lot of students are moving overseas to study these days. And when they see the East Sea misrepresented in their textbooks, they become outraged."

   The NGO has partnered with Yonhap for the "2017 National Brand Up Exhibition" held at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul from Tuesday to Sunday.

This year's exhibition, which focuses on the East Sea, comes amid the scheduled gathering of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in Monaco in late April. South Korea is expected to make a strong case for the concurrent adoption of East Sea along with Sea of Japan.

Park says the issue remains important for Koreans because it is more than just policy or diplomacy.

"Irrelevant to international classification and diplomatic recognition, Donghae (East Sea) is already part of Korean culture. There are literally thousands of local restaurants with Donghae in their names. It's part of many Koreans' lives," said Park.

VANK has appointed 150 high school and university students as "public diplomacy ambassadors" to better promulgate the East Sea through social media and foreign tourists visiting South Korea.

"Efforts by our student ambassadors will contribute much to the result in the upcoming IHO gathering," Park said.

Student volunteers for the "2017 National Brand Up Exhibition" are briefed on operations by an organizer at the National Museum Korea in central Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017. Student volunteers for the "2017 National Brand Up Exhibition" are briefed on operations by an organizer at the National Museum Korea in central Seoul on Feb. 21, 2017.

odissy@yna.co.kr

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