Chinese media over the weekend blasted South Korea's plans to build an ocean research station in the Yellow Sea, claiming it is a thinly disguised move to extend its exclusive economic zone.
Huanqiu Shibao, a Chinese tabloid that is a sister company to People's Daily newspaper, said in an article carried on Saturday that Seoul is trying to build another so-called oceanographic station to secure exclusive rights in contested waters.
The paper that generally focuses on international issues said South Korea already set up the Ieodo and Gageocho ocean research stations and is moving to build the West Sea station this year.
Ieodo station, completed in 2003, is located 149.5 kilometers south of Mara Island off Jeju, while Gageocho is 47 kilometers west of Gageo Island and was built in 2009.
The criticism comes after the government and parliament allocated 12.6 billion won ($11.9 million) in this year's budget to build an ocean research station in the Yellow Sea.
The paper, citing a senior expert on Sino-Korean affairs, said South Korea's propensity to build research centers on top of reefs located in waters where the EEZs of neighboring countries overlap is a ploy to win a favorable position in possible future negotiations. The source, however, pointed out that such a move conflicts with international law and common sense.
This view is valid since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea makes clear that submerged reefs cannot be claimed as territory by any country. By extension, building structures on top of such reefs do not give a country the right to exercise
sovereign power over surrounding waters.
Seoul and Beijing held string of talks beginning in 1996 to draw a median line for their respective EEZs in the Yellow Sea. The talks that went on for a decade failed to bring about any agreement.
South Korea insists that a median line based on equal distance from the shore should constitute the demarcation line. China, on the other hand, has said the population and length of shoreline should be weighed in regards to any final drawing of the EEZ zones.
Such a move could push the demarcation line close to South Korean shores, which is not acceptable to Seoul.
The Yellow Sea is not wide enough to accommodate the regular 200 nautical miles of EEZ that a country can usually claim over international waters adjacent to its shores. (Yonhap News)