[Viewpoint] An absurd territorial claimOkinotorishima was a coral reef which was about 1740 kilometers (1081 miles) south of Tokyo. The rock was only 70 centimeters (28 inches) above surface of the sea. The EEZ that Japan is about to declare through Okinotorishima is 430,000 square kilometers (267,189 square miles), which is even wider than the nation’s total land area.
On April 28, Asiaone, a Singaporean media source, reported that the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has approved 310,000 square kilometers of continental shelf and EEZ including Okinotorishima. The total size of the continental shelves reported is about 80 percent of the total land area.
The Japanese government has been working on Okinotorishima since 1931. As the rock was “terra nullius,” or no man’s land, the Japanese government could possess it. Neighbor nations are not raising any kinds of objections on that point so far. However, Okinotorishima does not satisfy the conditions for claiming the EEZ and continental shelf as well.
According to Article 121-3 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. That is at the bottom of strong opposition from neighbor nations regarding the matter.
During an international seminar hosted by the Society of Ieodo Research in June of last year, Dr. Jon Van Dyke has pointed out the fact that Okinotorishima cannot sustain human habitation or economic life. Since Okinotorishima is located on the path of the typhoon, in 1989 Japan built an artificial island around the rock by investing 60 billion yen for erosion control. The Japanese government also has a plan of completing infrastructure for the exploitation of ocean resources, harbor facilities and roads by 2016.
On Nov. 11, 2008, Japanese government submitted a document to expand the continental shelf in excess of 200 nautical miles. As a result, Japan is facing growing antipathy from Korea and China. Japan is, in short, claiming continental shelf using an ocean base that sits only 70 centimeters above the surface of the sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said, “The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has not been announced on the outcome of the case of Japan - the delimitation of the continental shelf. I do not know the Japanese’s take on it, but the mainstream, international view on the matter does not support Japan’s claim. China’s position on the reef is consistent - Okinotorishima reef should not validate Japan’s possession of EEZ and continental shelf under the international law.”
The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade also stated that the CLCS is not authorized to approve the rock as an island.
It is not yet clear whether the CLCS did approve the continental shelf based on Okinotorishima. Nevertheless, Japan’s proclaiming of continental shelf and EEZ is not only discrepant from Unclos but also will have an ill-effect on relations between Japan and her neighbor states.
Japan’s claim, which violates the law, will make for uneasy relationships between Northeast Asian countries. Maximizing national interest is the goal of every nation, and it should be done peacefully and reasonably according to the international law. It is time for the Japanese government to make a wise decision for the peace and stability of northeast Asia.
*The author, former president of Jeju National University, is president of the Society of Ieodo Research.
By Koh Choong-suk