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S. Korea-China maritime border should be drawn at halfway point

S. Korea-China maritime border should be drawn at halfway point

Posted December. 23, 2015 10:31,   


South Korea and China held talks on Tuesday in Seoul on their overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) but skepticism is rampant over an early deal. In their first such talks in seven years, Seoul proposed that the maritime border to be drawn at the halfway point between the two neighbors, while China insisted on the "fairness principle," arguing that the line should be closer to South Korea at a distance proportionate to the population, land mass and the length of their respective coastlines, and their continental shelves. The two countries negotiated the issue 14 times from 1996 until 2008, only to fail to narrow differences. The latest round of talks took place under an agreement in July 2014 at a summit between the leaders of the two countries to resume the negotiations. Although the chief negotiators` ranks have been upped to vice minister-level officials, there is a long way to go.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal countries have sovereign rights on the exploration, development and conservation of resources in the EEZ within 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the baseline of the territorial sea and exclusive rights to install and use artificial island facilities and structures. However, the Yellow Sea between South Korea and China are 184 nautical miles wide in the narrowest spot and just 280 nautical miles in the widest area, making the two neighbors` EEZs overlap in most areas. Although the U.N. convention recommends related parties to determine the maritime border based on bilateral agreement under international law in a fair manner, there is no established principle. Many precedents set by the International Court of Justice proposed middle lines as appropriate solutions.

How the EEZs are determined between South Korea and China would greatly affect the jurisdiction over the Ieodo, a 1,400-meter-by-1,800-meter underwater reef located 149 kilometers southwest of Marado, South Korea`s southernmost islet. China`s closest inhabited and uninhabited islands are 287 kilometers and 247 kilometers away, respectively. Although international law does not recognize reefs as territories, South Korea and China have differences over the jurisdiction over the reef. Although South Korea has been exercising de facto jurisdiction over reef since 2003, when it built a maritime scientific research base on it, the Ieodo issue will likely be a controversial matter in the bilateral EEZ negotiations.

Once drawn, EEZs are permanent. Therefore, it is not easy for one side to make concessions. One positive sign is that the two neighbors have friendly ties without any territorial disputes between them, unlike in the South China Sea. The two countries should seek a solution on the basis of international law under the spirit of the agreement in June 2013 between their presidents to make the Yellow Sea "a sea of peaceful cooperation and friendship."