December 23, 2015 10:33
Korea and China on Tuesday discussed areas where their so-called exclusive economic zones at sea overlap, leading to sometimes bloody clashes between Chinese fishermen and Korean maritime police.
The talks were the first on the problem in seven years. Officials from the two sides met for two-and-a-half hours and, while making no progress on the issue itself, agreed to hold regular meetings once a year.
Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul, Seoul's lead negotiator, said, "The issue is thorny and delicate. It can't be settled in one or two meetings."
The Chinese representative Liu Zhenmin said the most important thing is “that the negotiations got underway at all.”
The overlapping EEZ is one of the stickiest issues in Seoul-Beijing relations. The two countries held no fewer than 14 rounds of talks from 1996 to 2008 without reaching agreement, and pundits expect the fresh talks to take another few years.
It is common around the world for two countries with overlapping EEZs to draw a boundary in the middle of the disputed areas, but China insists its EEZ should stretch further east toward Korea considering the length of its coastline, continental area and population.
"China is making the demands based on what it calls a principle of 'equilibrium,' but this simply translates into 'I want more ocean space because my country is bigger,'" said Lee Seok-yong of Hannam University.
A key issue is ownership of the submerged rocks of Ieo that sit amid rich fishing grounds controlled by Seoul and located 149 km off of Korea's southernmost island of Marado and 287 km away from the Chinese island of Yushandao.
China agreed to resume the EEZ talks as bilateral ties warmed but is unlikely to budge on the core issues.
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