2012-03-13 (China Military News cited from koreaherald.com) — China’s renewed claim to jurisdiction over Ieodo, a submerged rock south of Jeju Island, has sparked concerns here over whether South Korea is sufficiently prepared to handle any contingencies threatening its maritime security.
In a diplomatic step, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry called in an official from the Chinese Embassy here on Monday, saying that South Korea would sternly deal with any moves to exercise jurisdiction over the rock.
The Chinese official reportedly repeated Beijing’s stance that Ieodo is within its exclusive economic zone ― 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometers, from its coastline.
The rock in question is in the overlapping EEZ of the two countries. But South Korea says it is within its EEZ given that it is located 149 kilometers southwest of Korea’s southernmost island of Marado, while China’s nearest island of Yushandao is 287 kilometers away.
The jurisdictional claim served as a wake-up call to South Korea, which has focused primarily on deterring North Korea while paying less attention to possible maritime threats from neighboring states such as China and Japan.
Since 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao has stressed the importance of securing maritime sovereignty, sought to increase public awareness of it and significantly increased its investment into bolstering naval capabilities.
China is now reportedly preparing to put into service its first aircraft carrier “Varyag,” which was bought from Ukraine in 1998, sometime this year, in what observers call a move to bolster its maritime ambitions.
On Monday, citing a senior navy official, People’s Daily, the newspaper of China’s Communist Party, carried an article making it official that the carrier will be commissioned this year. It is also reported that China plans to build two nuclear-powered carriers by 2015.
Stressing that Korea should keep tabs on China’s movements at sea, experts say China’s principal motivation to expand its maritime interests is to secure resources to feed its 1.3 billion people and power its economy.
“Its degree of dependence on foreign trade is around 60 percent and it imports 43 percent of its oil consumption. Most of the imports came through maritime routes,” said Kang Hyo-baik, vice dean of Graduate School International Legal Affairs at Kyunghee University.