Chinese consulate on Jeju Island
Exchanging offices of diplomatic missions means friendship and cooperation between the countries involved. They are surely needed to cover increasing cross-border human visits and economic ties.
That may explain why I, as a Korean, feel so good with the recent news on the Chinese government’s plan to establish a consulate general on Jeju Island, the southernmost major island of Korea. It also said Korea wants to open an additional consulate general in China.
Currently, Korea has eight consular offices, including one in Hong Kong, in China, while China has only two here, in Busan and Gwangju.
Few can deny bilateral ties have come a long way since the two governments established diplomatic relations in 1992. The yearly export and import data shows China is the number one trading partner of Korea, more so than the U.S. and Japan combined.
It is especially meaningful that Jeju Island has emerged as one of the favorite destinations for Chinese tourists. It is estimated that as many as 400,000 of them visited the ``Peace Island” last year. In the first half of this year, the number reportedly reached nearly 300,000. Little wonder Beijing feels the need to open a consulate general there.
Japan was a little swifter than China by setting up a consulate on Jeju a few years ago. It is good to see Korea’s two neighboring countries compete for enhancing friendship with this country.
It makes me quite uneasy, however, to think of the territorial disputes Korea faces with the two ― over Dokdo with Japan and Ieodo with China. Dokdo is volcanic outcroppings in the East Sea and Ieodo is a submersed reef south of Jeju Island.
We Koreans think Dokdo unquestionably is a part of our territory. Not a few historical documents, including old maps, back it up. More importantly, Korea now has effective control over the Dokdo islets.
But some Japanese politicians raise disputes every now and then claiming it as their own land. Recently, the feud grew worse, as Korea and Japan clashed over the name of waters between them ― East Sea or Sea of Japan.
The case with Ieodo is not much different. Although China has yet to claim official sovereignty over the reef, it seems ready to do so anytime soon. Chinese ships appear more often around the reef these days, forcing observers here to suspect Beijing’s intention.
Ieodo is closer to Marado, Korea’s southernmost island, than to any nearest Chinese islands, based on which Koreans think it as theirs. The government built a science research station on the reef in 2003, but China has argued that the boundary cannot entirely belong to Korean territory. What Beijing wants to say is that the issue remains undecided from the viewpoint of international law.
As is well known, China and Japan are in dispute of their own over Senkaku, or the Diaoyu Islands depending from which sides one sees them. The seabed around these islands is known to have large oil and gas reservoirs so the two countries will never give up their claims.
Historically, nothing has marred relationships among countries, which otherwise might have lived as good neighbors. National interests have come ahead of good-neighborliness in other words.
I hope the exchanges of consulates between Korea and China will serve as a valuable opportunity to mend fences over Ieodo. A new Chinese consulate on Jeju Island should be an outpost of amity between the two countries, too.
The writer is a journalist who worked with a major vernacular daily for nearly 30 years. He contributes articles to newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.