Cautious but firm attitude needed over Suyan Rock dispute with S.Korea

By Zhao Jianming Source:Global Times Published: 2012-11-14 19:05:04

Many territorial issues in East Asia have come to the forefront recently, such as the Diaoyu Islands dispute between China and Japan, the spat of Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan, between Japan and South Korea, and the South Kuril Islands dispute, also known as the Northern Territories dispute, between Russia and Japan. Compared to these, the issue of Suyan Rock, disputed between China and South Korea, is relatively uncovered, but still not unimportant.

Suyan Rock is located in a disputed exclusive economic zone that both China and South Korea have declared sovereignty over. South Korea calls Suyan Rock Ieodo or Parangdo. It has long declared that Suyan Rock is located within its exclusive economic zone. The reef of the rock is on the Korean section of the continental shelf. According to South Korea, Suyan Rock is much closer to the Korean Mara Island than China's Haijiao, also known as Tong Island.

Also, from the perspective of international law, South Korea contends that it was first to explore the Rock and has long effectively administered it.

In 1951, South Korea installed plaque on the Suyan Rock and named it Ieodo. In 1987, it built navigational buoys there. From 1995 to 2003, South Korea constructed the Ieodo Ocean Research Station, and equipped it with a heliport and dock.

However, as early as the 4th century BC, the Chinese Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas), a compilation of legends, mentions Suyan Rock.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak stated in March 2012 that if an agreement is reached about the exclusive economic zone between China and South Korea, Suyan Rock should belong to South Korea. In September, Lee Myung-bak announced that South Korea would strengthen its defense in the water around Suyan Rock.

South Korea has long been taking unilateral actions over Suyan Rock. Toward these provocations, the China State Oceanic Administration conducts regular patrols in the waters surrounding the rock.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly stated China's position that the location of Suyan Rock cannot be the determined factor of a territorial issue. Suyan Rock is a reef instead of an island, and a submerged reef can not be claimed as territory by any country. Suyan Rock should be viewed as part of the disputed exclusive economic zone. The ownership of the rock should be determined through bilateral negotiations.

Media from both countries have covered the dispute, and the issue can't be avoided. But compared with the Diaoyu Island or Huangyan Island dispute, the Suyan Rock issue is less intense and more controllable.

It is not a serious obstacle to Sino-South Korean bilateral relations at present. Neither serious accident or clash has occurred. The current situation has left enough diplomatic space for both countries to resolve this problem.

In the future, China should attach more attention to this issue. China should strength the coordination between its marine patrols and diplomatic measures, using these methods to oppose South Korea's unilateral actions and infringement of Chinese sovereignty. It should force South Korea to get back to the negotiating table.

China should also establish mechanisms to keep an eye on South Korea and prevent it from making an issue of Hupijiao Rock and Yajiao Rock which are located near Suyan Rock and in the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea.

South Korea is already preparing to submit a motion to the UN to expand their exclusive economic zone. At this time, in order to avoid negative international public opinion, China should take full advantage of international organizations and forums such as the UN to reiterate its position over Suyan Rock. China should also make plans to deal with South Korea's motion.

The Suyan Rock issue should be resolved based on long-term strategy and linked with political and economic issues. China should pay attention to it but should also be cautious. The intensification of the issue will affect the overall situation of bilateral relations.

The author is associate professor of Institute of International Relations at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus