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[Opinion] Ieo Island

Posted August. 09, 2008 07:24,   


The wind blew at 7.15 meters per second on Ieo Island yesterday afternoon. The wave was a meter high and its temperature 28.4 degrees Celsius. The automated observation equipment on the island’s ocean research station offers real-time information like these. Conditions on the islet can be observed through a live camera that stays on. This is possible because the islet belongs to Korea. Those who visit Ieo have a mind-boggling experience because they are touched at seeing the islet over a vast sea.

Ieo is 149 kilometers southwest of Mara Island. No different from its name, Ieo is a submerged rock. The shallowest peak is 4.6 meters underwater so it can be only seen when a big wave comes. Ieo is six times the size of a soccer field, with a span of 600 meters north to south and 750 meters west to east. The island is 40 meters below sea level. The government spent 21.2 billion won to build the research station in 2003. Experts visit the station 10 times a year to have the islet managed by people for about three months.

China Oceanic Information Network has claimed Chinese sovereignty over Ieo, calling it by the Chinese name Suyan Rock. Seoul said yesterday that it will ask Beijing for a correction. Though the islet is in China’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, Ieo belongs to Korea’s EEZ and continental shelves. The closest Chinese island to Ieo is 247 kilometers away, 98 kilometers farther than the distance between Mara and Ieo. An international standard allows a median line for countries facing each other. A folk song from Jeju Island, “Let’s Go to Ieo Island,” also indicates that the islet has long provided a livelihood for Korean fishermen.

China sent a patrol plane to Ieo in 2006 and a patrol ship in nearby waters to study the islet. China is trying to claim ancient Korean history as its own, and is now reaching for Ieo. Ironically, Beijing is showing an expansionist ambition while singing a song of peace in its hosting of the Summer Olympics. China is no different from Japan, which claims the Dokdo islets despite most Japanese not knowing the term Dokdo in the first place.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)