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Korea, China discuss maritime border

Two neighbors hold first negotiation in 3 years

Korea and China last week held the first talks in about three years to demarcate their exclusive economic zones that have long been a source of tension between the two countries, Seoul officials said Tuesday.

The closed-door meeting came weeks ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul. It was led by Kang Jeong-sik, director-general for international legal affairs at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, and Ouyang Yujing, director-general for boundary and ocean affairs of Beijing’s Foreign Ministry.

With their EEZs overlapping, the two countries’ chiefs of legal affairs have held annual consultations to determine their boundaries since 1996.

But the talks lost vigor in recent years in the face of stark differences between the sides and a flare-up in tension in the South and East China Seas. Beijing also installed a new unit at its Foreign Ministry in 2009 to handle territorial and maritime disputes.

Korea has been pushing for a fresh round of meeting since presidents Xi and Park Geun-hye agreed to “swiftly restart” negotiations at their first summit in June 2013 in China.

During the latest talks, however, the two sides again reaffirmed their respective positions, a ministry official said, requesting anonymity because the consultations were not to be made public.

Seoul has been calling for a median line boundary, whereas Beijing argues that the total length of the coastline and the population should be taken into account, which would bring the demarcation line closer to Korean shores.

“The negotiation will not be an easy one especially given a slew of ongoing territorial and maritime brawls engulfing China. But its resumption is significant in itself, and we will continue to strive to close the gap,” the official added.

The issue came to the fore late last year when China abruptly declared an expansion of its air defense zone over the East China Sea.

The announcement triggered a backlash from neighbors, which said it revealed China’s expansionist ambitions and intention to challenge the status quo. Korea also lodged a protest because the zone included Ieodo, a submerged rock lying in the intersection of the two countries’ EEZs, controlled by Seoul but claimed by Beijing.

Seoul launched a scientific research station there in 2003 to monitor weather conditions, study marine life and prop up its jurisdiction.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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