[OUTLOOK]Value law over nationalistic prideThe conflict over the Dokdo islets in April ended without being solved. Korea postponed its plans to register Korean names for the seabed area around the Dokdo islets with the International Hydrographic Organization and Japan dropped its maritime survey plans. What caused these incidents? Both countries wanted to prepare ways to prove the Dokdo islets are their territory.
On April 18, the South Korean government submitted a declaration to the United Nations in order to avoid a procedure of dispute settlement, according to Article 298 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This invalidated Tokyo’s strategic moves to make the Dokdo islets an area of international dispute. But Japan is unlikely to stop making efforts to gain sovereignty over the Dokdo islets. It will read the fine print of the law to file a suit with the UN Court for the Law of Sea. Seoul needs to prepare for this.
Can the sovereignty of the Dokdo islets be solved in other ways? This is practically impossible. If one country gives up sovereignty of the islets, for whatever reason, that country will have difficulty in maintaining power. Thus, we need to leave this issue to our descendants, keep quiet about it and try not to make any trouble.
We should, however, do our best in the negotiations over exclusive economic zones that will start July 12.
The Dokdo islets will be the main issue there.
The aspects of the negotiations can vary, depending on whether the Dokdo islets are seen as islands or rocks. I believe that we need to see the Dokdo islets as rocks when negotiating over the economic zone.
First, Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”
Although meanings can differ according to interpretation, the Dokdo islets should be regarded as rocks. Thus, the zone should be drawn with Ulleung Island as the starting point. The Dokdo islets will still be within our territory.
Setting the zone has nothing to do with sovereignty. We need to show the world that we are faithful to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, rather than worrying whether we gain or lose some water areas.
If we draw the zone with Ulleung Island as a reference, our sea area will decrease by 21,000 square kilometers, or 8,100 square miles. Meanwhile, if Japan draws the zone from Jodo, or Yonaguni in Japanese, a rock south of the Dokdo islets, Korea will lose as much as 36,000 square kilometers of sea area.
Abiding by international laws is a way to secure legitimacy.
Second, if Japan draws its zone from its 14 rocks off its coast, the size of its sea area increases so considerably that Korean ships will be placed under Japan’s regulations in broader waters.
Marking the economic zone with the Dokdo islets as a starting point will give Japan excuses to use countless rocks off its coastline as starting points when drawing the zone. In such a case, the size of Japan’s zone will become 10.6 percent of its land areas, 405 square kilometers.
Conversely, if we draw the zone from an island, Japan’s sea areas will be half as large.
Japan is likely to hope that we claim our exclusive economic zone with the Dokdo islets as a reference point. Some Koreans say that Japan has drawn its zone from the Dokdo islets, or Takeshima in Japan, so we should do the same. However, a rock cannot be a starting point of a economic zone, no matter who has sovereignty of the island.
If the other party violates the law, we need to point that out and ask for corrections. We should not do the same.
We need to consider that should China draw its exclusive economic zone with Dongdo as a reference point, Korea would lose a significant amount of the fourth block mining area under the ocean.
Third, our intention has previously been to use Ulleung Island as the starting point when drawing the economic zone.
When a nation makes a claim, it should have legitimacy under international law and also consistency. Abiding by this principle will be convincing to the negotiating partner and the international community.
* The writer is the president of the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy and former Chief of Naval Operations.
by An Pyong-tae