China is demanding that South Korea cede a large portion of its exclusive economic zone in the Yellow Sea to Beijing, including a submerged sea mount named Ieo that hosts a Korean marine research facility.
Officials of the two nations opened talks on the issue in Seoul on Tuesday, although recent claims by China that the sea mount falls within Chinese waters and should be known as Suyan Rock are causing concern.
Beijing’s military have already effectively seized control of a number of reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, ignoring claims to the islands and their surrounding waters by Vietnam and the Philippines.
China is also becoming increasingly aggressive in the number and frequency of incursions by ships and aircraft into waters around Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims are historically Chinese territory and should be known as the Diaoyu islands.
Analysts say China is attempting to push its sea borders further away from its own coastline as it stretches its new-found economic and military might in the Western Pacific.
China and South Korea have built closer economic and diplomatic ties in recent years, but any claim against Korean waters could set that relationship back.
During their discussions, the Chinese side proposed that the problem of overlapping exclusive economic zones in the Yellow Sea should be solved by the demarcation line being moved to the east, closer to the Korean coast, on the grounds that China is larger, has a bigger population and a longer coastline than South Korea.
Under Beijing’s proposal, the Ieo sea mount – first charted by the British merchant vessel Socotra in 1900 and initially named Socotra Rock – would fall under Chinese control. The feature is 93 miles from the Korean coast and 178 miles from China.
Seoul’s position is that the demarcation line should lie half-way between the two nations’ coastlines, as is considered the international norm.
Cho Tae-yul, the South Korean vice foreign minister, told reporters after the meeting that further talks will be held, but that discussions would be “difficult and lengthy”.
Source: The Telegraph