China has officially denied reports that it plans to monitor Ieo Island with drones and made clear that it has no intention of laying claim to the submerged rocks, the Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Pressed by Seoul to clarify its position, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the submerged rocks were mentioned in the process of explaining surveillance activities around Chinese waters nearby, but media reports reflect only "a personal opinion" of the official quoted.
China apparently wishes to decide who controls Ieo in negotiations with Korea over the exclusive economic zones of the two sides in surrounding waters.
Diplomatic sources believe China backed down to avoid stoking anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea and boost cooperation amid heightening tensions with Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands.
China's State Oceanic Administration announced in March that it would include Ieo, where its exclusive economic zone overlaps with Korea's, among places to be monitored by patrol boats and surveillance aircraft. In late September, an official demonstrated drones that will be part of remote-controlled surveillance in coastal provinces including Ieo.