Ieodo seminar explores Korea’s new frontier
By Kim Se-jeong
The president of the Society of Ieodo Research called for keener public attention to maritime disputes and issues of maritime sovereignty at an international conference on the submerged rock, Thursday, in Seoul.
“The number of maritime disputes is on the rise, which means it’s becoming more important to be aware of possible disputes and be prepared for them. I hope this seminar will contribute to this end,” said President Koh Choong-suk of the society.
The seminar, titled“Maritime Boundary Disputes in East China Sea: Ieodo,” was organized by the Seoul-based private research institute under the sponsorship of The Korea Times.
Submerged 4.6 meters below the water, Ieodo is located 149 kilometers southwest of Marado Island, South Korea’s southernmost island. Ieodo is the Korean name, and its official name is Socotra Rock, named after the British vessel that discovered the rock in 1900.
Jon Van Dyke, a professor from the University of Hawaii, said that the rock’s distance being closest to Korean territory, an observation facility on the rock and the recent settlement history reinstate Korea’s position that the rock lies within Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 200 nautical miles from the country’s coast.
However, Korea’s claim on the EEZ didn’t sit well with China.
In fact, China has argued Ieodo is on a natural extension of its continental shelf filled with sediments and silt from rivers in China.
It has not publicly claimed sovereignty over the submerged rock, but filed complaints about Korea’s construction of the observatory facility from the very beginning.
Completed in 2003, the facility has been used to monitor weather conditions and to examine climate change and maritime safety.
Van Dyke said, “China’s theory of natural prolongation of its continental shelf is no longer supported (in the settlement of maritime disputes).”
Scholars said the most realistic way to settle the dispute would be a bilateral negotiation. But that would mean a painstaking path for Korea.
“China is a big country. It always wants bilateral negotiations so that it can influence its small neighbors,” said Ian Storey, editor of the Contemporary Southeast Asia in Singapore, who made a presentation on China’s maritime disputes with Southeast Asian states.
Taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, which handles maritime disputes, wouldn’t be a viable option, scholars said, as it requires consent from China.
Scholars said it’s less likely that China would agree on having the international body to intervene.