Beijing’s claiming of Ieodo

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Beijing’s claiming of Ieodo

The Chinese government claimed that Ieodo - a submerged reef off Marado Island to the south of Jeju Island - is part of its sea territory and included the area in its routine maritime and aviation patrol. A high official in Beijing made the remarks in an interview with the state-run Xinhua News Agency ahead of the opening of the National People’s Congress earlier this month. Though the claim is nothing new, the statement commands our attention as a minister-level official joined the chorus claiming Chinese sovereignty over the reef. Our government should sternly respond to the claim.

Located 149 kilometers (92 miles) off our southernmost island of Mara Island, Ieodo - or Suyan Rock in Chinese - is closer to our territory as it is 247 kilometers away from the nearest Chinese island. Based on the standards of exclusive economic zones, China could argue the reef is within its territorial waters. Based on the universal principle of applying a median or close line, however, Ieodo is within our territorial waters no matter what. As it turned out, Beijing didn’t raise any objection when we exercised effective control of the reef by constructing a maritime research base on it.

China’s warning to our research team’s activities and augmented surveillance on the waters cannot but be regarded as an attempt to turn the waters into a territorial dispute. Beijing appears to have a strategic goal: strengthening its control over the South and East China Sea, not to mention coveting the abundant energy resources and fish in the waters.

For China to rise to challenge the United States, it must secure sea routes befitting its status as the second-biggest economy in the world. China’s territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian countries also carry strategic weight along with economic benefits. To that goal, Beijing is building up its naval power. But China must confront the fact that it is providing an impetus for more U.S. engagement in the area, is deepening other countries’ reliance on the U.S., and therefore can put it into isolation. Beijing must think carefully about the benefits it can gain from territorial fights.

But the problem is the way we are coping with China’s superior naval might. The government should wrap up the ongoing negotiation on how to draw a definitive line in the contentious waters. Our territorial claims are more justified than China’s. We urge the government to respond resolutely and quickly to China’s abrasive move unless it wants the reef to turn into another Dokdo Islets or Senkaku Islands.
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