President Lee Myung-bak on Monday said the rock outcropping of Ieo Island off Korea's southern resort island of Jeju will "fall naturally into Korean-controlled areas" if the overlapping areas are sorted out in future negotiations with China. Lee's comments came days after a top Chinese maritime official reportedly laid claim to the submerged rocks.

"First of all, we have to understand that it is not a territorial matter... because it is 4-5 meters underwater," Lee said in a panel discussion with editors of local newspapers and broadcasters. "But it is part of our exclusive economic zone."

In a regular briefing on Monday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Seoul and Beijing must decide through negotiations which side Ieo, called Suyan Rock by China, belongs to. Liu added the two countries "do not view this as a territorial issue since it is not a territory."

The issue provoked some ire in Korea when Liu Xigui, the chief of China's State Oceanic Administration, was reported as saying in an interview with Beijing's Xinhua news agency that Ieo lies in waters under China's jurisdiction and is part of areas patrolled by Chinese ships and aircraft.

The Foreign Ministry lodged an official protest on Monday, nine days after Liu's comments. Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin called in Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xinsen and told him that Ieo falls under Korean jurisdiction even before the EEZ boundaries are clarified, according to a ministry official. "We cannot accept any attempt by China to formally exercise jurisdictional control," Kim was quoted as saying by the ministry official.

But Kim also proposed fresh negotiations to clarify the two countries' EEZs. The Chinese envoy said he would convey Seoul's position to his government but sought Seoul's understanding of Beijing's position that the waters surrounding the rocks are part of China's EEZ. A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We have no intention of allowing this to become a serious problem based on the fact that Ieo naturally falls under our jurisdiction."

Korea and China had been negotiating since 1996 how to demarcate their EEZs but talks came to an inconclusive halt in 2008.

go to the home page to the top