Quirky McAuliffe pledge sparks international debate

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ANNANDALE, Va. (WJLA) - At Ye Chon in Annandale, a snapshot of a vibrant community.

“People think there are 80,000 to 90,000 Koreans in the state of Virginia, but we think there are more like 150,000,” Peter Kim says. 

Kim leads an organization called Voice of Korean Americans. At a table with friends, the discussion quickly turns to what’s in a name. Kim is advocating for an off-beat campaign promise by then-gubernatorial candidate and now Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

On the trail, McAuliffe said he intended to add the name East Sea to text books mentioning Sea of Japan. The latter name is a sore spot for Koreans who live under Japanese military occupation for roughly 36 years. 

“Whenever we hear the name ‘Sea of Japan,’ it brings a terrible history,” Kim says. 

Now McAuliffe’s small promise is sparking passion among Koreans who are for the change, and irritation among Japanese leaders who say the move could hurt relations. 

POLITICO’S James Hohmann says it was perhaps McAuliffe’s agreeable nature that put him in an international tight spot. 

“I think it’s something he thought would get him votes and support and it probably did,” Hohmann says. 

The bill could hit McAuliffe’s desk this session, forcing the governor to cross the Rubicon, or in this case, a strait in Asia. 

“Now, he’ll sort of have to make that choice,” Hohmann says. 

Kim says it’s an issue for all Virginians, regardless of nationality. 

“All we’re saying is ‘Hey guys, this sea is under dispute,' ” Kim says. It’s a debate that may be settled on the other side of the world.

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