Gov't to Bolster Protection of Ieo Island

President Lee Myung-bak on Monday said his government is bolstering protection of two of the most remote areas under Korea's control. "The government has recently taken steps to strengthen the security of Ieo Island and Dokdo," Lee said in a speech in Busan commemorating the 59th anniversary of Korea's maritime police.

"As North Korea continues to threaten maritime provocations, tensions are also mounting in waters in Northeast Asia so we cannot afford to let our guard down even for a moment," he added.

The government is preparing for increased Chinese pressure over Ieo Island. "Ieo Island is not an island according to international maritime laws, but an underwater reef, so this is not an issue of territorial dispute," a government official here said. "But from the standpoint of maritime economic sovereignty, it is a territory that we cannot cede." At present, the waters surrounding Ieo Island are swarming with Chinese fishing vessels.

"If China dispatches regular patrols to Ieo Island, then we will also consider stepping up patrols," a government source here said.

In March, China's State Oceanic Administration included Ieo Island on a list of areas that will be regularly patrolled. "If China goes overboard over Ieo Island, Korea and the U.S. will have to send patrol boats to the area to monitor the waters," said Park Byung-kwang, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.

A government official here said speeding up construction of the naval base on Jeju island would be one way to protect Korea's national interests in southern waters.

englishnews@chosun.com / Sep. 25, 2012 12:27 KST