China on Thursday took issue with Korean observation facilities on Ieodo Island, southwest of the southern island of Jeju.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qingang told reporters the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the two countries overlap at the reef-islet in the northern part of the East China Sea, and China objects to Korea’s "unilateral" activities in the region. Beijing and Seoul held several rounds of negotiations on the demarcation of the EEZ between the two countries, but the Chinese government objected to Korea’s establishment of a maritime observatory complex on the island, Quin said. He described the Korean government’s unilateral action as “illegal” but added the two countries never had a territorial dispute over the island.
Ieodo lies 149 km southwest of Korea's southernmost island of Mara, its top submerged under 4.6 m of water. The Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute built an ocean research station equipped with a helicopter pad and cutting-edge observatory there between 1995 and 2001. Under UN maritime law, a reef is not considered part of a country’s territory. But Ieodo is closer to Korea than to China and Japan, and the island certainly lies within Korea’s EEZ. The nearest Chinese island to Ieodo is Tongdao off the coast of Jiangsu province, which is 245 km from Ieodo.
A Korean Embassy official in Beijing said that Ieodo is within Korea’s EEZ because it is on the Korean continental shelf and nearest Korea. The Chinese State Oceanic Administration in a report on its homepage says Chinese planes conducted surveillance on Korea’s maritime observation facilities on Ieodo five times last year.