Okinotorishima: its implications to Korea
The United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) has decided that the sea territory between the Japanese archipelago and Okinotorishima is part of Japan’s continental shelf. The CLCS decision may be a blessing to Japan, but it can be looked upon as dubious by the rest of the world. The CLCS is composed of about 20 scientists who study materials submitted by nations that want to extend the natural prolongation of their continental shelves. It is not a judicial body that makes legal decisions as do the International Court of Justice and International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, but its scientific conclusion may be equivalent to a court ruling.
China has already challenged the U.N. CLCS decision; and all other nations should join it. Why? Simply it is ridiculous. The decision may justify calling Okinotorishima an island, not tiny rocks just above water. The rocks will be underwater sooner or later, which is the reason the Japanese government erected a fortified wall on and around them. Japan has claimed that it is an island, not rocks, and declared it the baseline for its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Once Britain claimed Rockall Islet as the baseline of its exclusive economic zone, but decided to withdraw the claim later. Japan has not learned the lesson of the British example.
If the world accepts the CLCS decision, Hawaii may claim all the Pacific Ocean as its sea. It may be good news for Korea, because Ieodo could be declared the baseline of its EEZ. All rocks in the sea or underwater rocks with man-made facilities such as lighthouse and ocean research tower may justifiably be called islands which can extend sea territory. EEZs and natural prolongations beyond 200 nautical miles have caused conflict and tensions between coastal and island nations in narrow and small seas. The United Nations and the Law of the Sea were supposed to create peace at sea, but the results have been the opposite.
The CLCS was created to delimit continental shelves. If it cannot meet its spirit and purpose, it should be dismantled as soon as possible. EEZs and continental shelves have often been used by powerful nations such as the United States which has coasts on the Pacific and the Atlantic. However, other seas are not large and do not extend to 200 nautical miles ― the East China Sea and the South China Sea are good examples. Therefore, small seas should not be subject to EEZ declarations and natural prolongations of the continental shelf. They should be divided by a median line between opposing coastal states. China, Japan and Korea should respect this median line dropping such concepts as EEZs and continental shelf extension.
After Japan submitted its claim for an extended continental shelf to the CLCS, China followed suit. The two nations spent millions of dollars preparing their claims ― if they had spent that kind of money on ocean protection and conservation, and for humanitarian aid and assistance to poor nations, they would have been respected more. Poor countries cannot even prepare documents for submission. No document can be perfect or near perfect, because the seabed cannot be researched in a couple of years or even decades geologically. It takes more than a decade to explore such things as the beginnings of the Earth, the Big Bang Theory and the present situation of underwater geological configurations. Science cannot comprehend the Earth yet totally.
A couple of years ago, a scholar from Taiwan propose an EEZ of 24 nautical miles surrounding Okinotorishima, not 200 nautical miles, as a compromise between China and Japan. Despite being politically acceptable, it was ridiculed by some scholars of the Law of the Sea. I, on the other hand, came to admire Dr. Yann-huei Song of Academia Sinica, Taipei, for his delicate art of compromise. If 24 nautical miles surrounding Okinotorishima are accepted, then 24 nautical miles around Ieodo are also justifiable.
I have been advocating an Asian Law of the Sea in order to bring peace to our seas, because the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea has many serious defects and so cannot be applied to seas in this region due to history. Korea can lead Asian nations to a peaceful sea from a stormy one.
Asian seas should not allow the presence of any military vessels except for the clear and right purposes such as controlling piracy, and halting the transport and exporting of weapons of mass destruction for terrorist activities. Any war provocations should be condemned by Asian nations. The sea should be environmentally protected and conserved first, before becoming the object of exploitation.
I dedicate my poem to Asian seas and peace.
Sea and the nations
The sea is one, but the nations want to divide and conquer the sea. The sea by birth does not acknowledge the national boundary lines, EEZ nor extension of continental shelf. As a matter of fact, sea ridicules and denies existences of such things men and women made.
Nations want to make and expand their own seas, because the sea has living and non-living resources by inventing EEZ and Continental Shelf in and under the deep sea. But all schools of fish do not respect the national boundary line, so does tsunami, because they enjoy freedom of navigation and movements.
Nations do not yet consent to each other on how to draw the basic coastline, which is the starting point of EEEZ and Continental shelf.
Nations invest millions of dollars for studying seabed condition to justify their claims of continental shelf. Its geological formation was designed and shaped by nature or Big Bang theory, rejecting the nationalization of CS.
My friends, we cannot divide the water and draw a line on the waters. Water evaporates, producing clouds and rain for the living things on the land.
Sea ridicules the wisdom of humankind in the 21st century. Nature or Big Bang made the sea as the source of life on Earth, but the nations do not know the value of life, so precious to us.
Drawing a line even on the surface of land is artificial.
Drawing a line underground is ridiculous.
Sea, one sea, is and must be the common blue space for all mankind’s hope, but it is polluted and destroyed by nationalism, greed, overfishing, tensions, wars and military confrontations, even after two World Wars and the Cold War over half a century.
How ridiculous we are!
How pathetic the nations are!
Advanced technologies are destroying our sea. Nationalism is making the sea a complex web of too many artificial lines ― more ridiculous and more pathetic.
Alas! Our sea is a sorrowful, painful tragedy, tragedy of the commons.
Dr. Choi is a senior scholar of the Society of Ieodo Research. He retired from a long teaching career in the United States and Korea. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.