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Another territorial dispute for Seoul?

Beijing classifies the Ieodo reef as Chinese territory on its Web site

Aug 09,2008
Seoul said it would urge Beijing to revise its latest claim to Ieodo, a remote underwater reef about 149 kilometers (92.5 miles) from the southwest coast of Korea, on the Web site of its government agency.

The move came after China’s National Marine Data and Information Service said on its Oceanic Information Network Web site as of Dec. 24 last year that Ieodo, about 245 kilometers away from China, is “Chinese territory.”

The revelation, which local television station KBS brought to light in Korea on Thursday night, stirred a concern that Seoul may have to deal with two territorial disputes, with both Tokyo and Beijing.

But the Foreign Ministry here indicated the Web site may have made a mistake, by quoting information from individuals instead of official government data.

An official from the Korean Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Ieodo is “absolutely” located within Korea’s exclusive economic zone, a sea zone over which a country has rights over exploration and use of marine resources.

Korea built an oceanic research tower on the giant reef, about 1.8 kilometers wide at 50 meters below the water’s surface, in 2003, and has been operating the facility since then.

“Ieodo is a reef that stays underwater all the time, meaning neither China nor Korea can make a territorial claim on it. It is not a matter of territorial sovereignty but a matter of the oceanic zone line,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official who declined to be named.

By definition, an exclusive economic zone stretches 200 nautical miles, or about 370 kilometers, from the mainland.

Ieodo, although located far closer to Korea than China, is still within the EEZ of both countries, meaning that an agreement needs to be reached on its ownership. The two nations have not yet reached a deal on where to draw the border between their EEZs through 13 rounds of talks. The 14th round of talks will be later this year, the official said.

Beijing has filed several official complaints to Seoul since Korea started construction of the oceanic research tower on the reef in 2001.

“The Web site statement that the reef is Chinese territory does not make sense, not only in terms of international law but also in terms of the agreement made between the two countries,” said the official.

In 2006, the two countries agreed the claim over Ieodo should be dealt with as an EEZ matter, not as a territorial one.


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter [hawon@joongang.co.kr]


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