US candidate courts Korean voters with bill on name of sea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 4:15am

A geographic naming dispute between South Korea and Japan may soon become a congressional issue thanks to a competitive House race in the US state of Virginia later this year.

Barbara Comstock, vying for the seat being vacated by Republican Frank Wolf, promised on 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.

"The Korean community is very pleased," said Peter Kim, who runs the group Voice of Korean Americans.

Comstock is facing Democrat John Foust in the November 4 general election. Foust also supported the East Sea designation, a spokesman said.

Comstock has been courting Korean American voters in the 10th District, which has a growing Asian population.

The seemingly minor change became a major headache this year for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. 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, the state capital, Comstock described herself in a statement as a "chief co-patron" of the successful bill. But although she was one of 16 sponsors, she was not one of four chief co-sponsors of the House version of the legislation. 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 supported the name East Sea.

The day of her announcement, Comstock met with community leaders to celebrate South Korea's independence day.

Traditionally a swing group, Asian Americans have increasingly voted Democratic in recent years.