March 13, 2012 13:05
While leftwing activists were protesting against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, China is increasing its maritime presence near the Korean Peninsula, and a senior Chinese official laid claim to a submerged rock outcropping near Jeju. Liu Xigui, the chief of China's State Oceanic Administration, claimed in an interview with Beijing’s Xinhua news agency on March 3 that Ieo Island, which sits in the two countries' overlapping exclusive economic zone and is known to China as Suyan Rock, lies in waters that would be patrolled by Chinese naval ships and military aircraft.
Ieo lies 149 km or 80 nautical miles south of Mara Island and 287 km or 155 nautical miles northeast of the nearest Chinese island of Tongdao. According to UN maritime law, an EEZ stretches 200 nautical miles, or about 370 km, from each country's territory. Although Ieo exists within the overlapping EEZs, there is no dispute over the fact that it lies inside Korean territorial waters.
China itself cannot dispute this and lodged only a perfunctory protest when South Korea built a maritime research station there back in 2003. But China began calling it Suyan Rock in 2006 and bolstered patrols by naval boats in the middle of last year.
China's first-ever aircraft carrier will begin operations this year from its home port in Dalian in southern China and will patrol waters that include Ieo as well as the Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands that are under dispute between Beijing and Tokyo. It plans to build more aircraft carriers to create carrier-based battle groups.
Within a few years, Koreans will be able to see them emerging over the horizon off Jeju Island, from the very point where the protesters are now picketing the construction of the naval base. Maybe the protesters would like to gift-wrap the rocks when that happens and hand them over to China.
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