Ieodo has become the center of public attention after recent reports by local and national media that China has once again claimed Ieodo as being part of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The proclaimed “dispute” between the Chinese and Korean governments was ignited after Liu Cigui, the director of China’s State Oceanic Administration, stated in a March 3 interview with Xinhua News that his administration intended to patrol and enforce domestic law over China’s maritime jurisdiction including the waters surrounding Ieodo rock.
Ieodo, internationally known as Socotra Rock, is a submerged rock located 4.6 meters below sea level and according to international maritime law, cannot legally be claimed as territory by either country. The issue at hand is the territorial waters surrounding Ieodo which lies in both China’s and Korea’s EEZ.
“First of all, we have to understand that the Ieodo issue is not a territorial matter … because it is 4.6 meters under the sea’s surface,” the South Korean President was quoted by Yonhap News as saying.
Ieodo, the submerged rock that has been at the center of debate between Korea and China since 1995, is believed by some to be part of a larger scheme exhibiting China’s maritime ambitions. Professor Kim Boo Chan, from Jeju National University’s School of Law, sees no immediate need to worry about this issue.
In an interview with Professor Kim, he clarified that according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ieodo cannot be claimed as territory by either country. However, since both countries have not made an agreement regarding maritime boundaries, both China and South Korea are legally entitled to claim Ieodo as being part of their EEZ.
A country’s EEZ extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from its coastal baseline. Since Ieodo is 147 km southwest of Korea’s southernmost territory, Marado Island and 287 km from China’s furthest territory, Yushando, it currently lies within overlapping EEZs. When overlap occurs, it is up to the states to delineate the actual maritime boundary.
In the case of China and Korea’s overlapping EEZs, Professor Kim believes that “the principal of equidistance or the median line principle, is very appropriate — for concluding the maritime boundary between opposite states or adjacent states.” This principle would delineate a maritime boundary that lies equal distance from each countries closest territory and would result in Ieodo falling under Korea’s jurisdiction.
However, according to Professor Kim, until this agreement is made, both China and Korea can use those waters for maritime activities including utilization of Navy ships.
When two countries cannot come to an agreement on maritime boundaries through negotiation, Professor Kim explains that “countries can use the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal For The Law Of The Sea” to help settle their dispute.
Not everyone agrees on how the Ieodo issue should be resolved. Jung Won Lee, a researcher at the Society of Ieodo Research Corporation, believes that “to resolve the Ieodo conflict, public attention is required.” He further states that it is important to keep jurisdiction over the waters surrounding Ieodo saying that “giving up on Ieodo is basically the same as giving up Korea’s development possibilities in the future.”
Ieodo Rock currently acts as the foundation for the Ocean Research Station, built in 2003 by the Korean government, which is solely used to measure ocean currents and accumulate data for weather forecasting, fishery, and environmental protection and conservation.
Korea and China had been negotiating since 1996 how to demarcate their EEZ but talks came to an inconclusive halt in 2008.
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