Balanced delimitation of East China Sea needed
Asserting that Korean and Chinese legitimate continental shelves are extended up to the axis of the Okinawa Trough beyond the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary lines underneath the Japanese EEZ could be deemed only as a legally “possible stance” in the legal logic.
The formidable objections have already been raised by Japan. So, we should make this into a “firmly acceptable and acknowledged stance, through practical dispute settlement efforts.
Particularly, some strenuous efforts should be exerted by Korea and China.
And those efforts should be concentrated on a joint manner between Korea and China, on the basis of cooperation and mutual understanding.
It is true once again that even a sound legal conclusion doesn’t give you a practical dispute settlement.
The East China Sea continental shelf commonly shared by Korea and China should be delineated by applying those criteria relevant to inner continental shelf, such as the equidistance methods and proportionality excluding any geological and geo-morphological criteria.
However, China has not accepted this legitimate legal conclusion, yet.
Chinese contentious arguments based on stubborn prejudices and hostilities against Korea and the legitimate legal conclusions themselves should be logically answered and eliminated through a painstaking negotiation and fair conversations.
At least in a nominal basis, Korea has a far stronger stance than China against Japan, as far as this matter of applying the principle
of natural prolongation of landmass in the East China Sea is concerned.
The agreement between Japan and Korea concerning joint development of the southern part of the continental shelf adjacent to the two countries has been concluded on Jan. 30, 1974.
This agreement entered into force on June 22, 1978. It shall be effective for 50 years, until June 22, 2028.
On the other hand, however, China has practically maintained a self-restraining stance concerning the legal title to the East China Sea continental shelf.
China respected the Japanese claims to hypothetical EEZ boundary line between China and Japan. Under this, they will restrict oil exploring activities beyond this equidistant line for more than three decades.
Those oil exploring drilling rigs such as Chunxiao, Duanqiao, and Tianwaitian, which China has developed in the East China Sea, are all positioned within the Chinese side, respecting the Japanese position by self-restricting China’s oil exploring activities.
We should say, at least in a nominal basis, Korea has maintained rather firm stance regarding the legal title to the East China Sea continental shelf.
Obviously based on, and encouraged by, the principle of natural prolongation stipulated in the North Sea continental shelf case in 1969, Korea has concluded the 1974 Joint Development Agreement with Japan.
For almost 30 years, since the entering into force of the treaty in 1978, Korea has continued to pursue its exploring activities, jointly with Japan, beyond the Japanese 200 EEZ hypothetical boundary line.
The fact that Japan had ratified the 1974 agreement between Korea and Japan concerning Joint Development of the southern part of the continental shelf adjacent to the two countries in 1978, could mean that Japan generally acknowledged the Korean claim of natural prolongation of its continental shelf within the Japanese EEZ in the joint development zone area.
If only, China willingly acknowledges and confirms this rather strong Korean legal posture with relation to the “natural prolongation of landmass principle” in ratifying the 1974 Joint Development Agreement with Japan, Korea and China could make a good start for a joint efforts to overrule the formidable Japanese contentions, in relation to the legal title to the East China Sea continental shelf.
We should say, however, it is rather Korea which has maintained the over self-restraint posture than China, in developing and
exploiting the zone.
Ever since these curious happenings, which roughly coincided with the 1985 International Court of Justice ruling for the Libya-Malta case, there were no more prospective attempts in the zone for almost 20 years.
Korea has not exploited a single drop of oil from this famous, rich energy resource reservoir, the East China Sea continental shelf, with such a legitimate legal title.
A balanced and secure delimitation of the East China Sea continental shelf among Korea, China and Japan is urgently needed.
Needless to say, a sound and accurate legal conclusion shall give a logical ground for a practical dispute settlement among the contracting parties, Korea, China and Japan.
Like a Korean proverb says, it is no one but the hawk who hunts and catches the pheasant.
The three parties, Korea, China and Japan should exert sincere efforts to come to a balanced and fair solution in delimiting the continental shelf.
Kim Young-koo is president of Ryeo Hae Institute.