S. Korean, Japanese coast guards face off in waters off Jeju for 3 straight days

Posted on : 2021-01-13 17:27 KST Modified on : 2021-01-13 17:27 KST
Maritime dispute tied to both sides’ claims of exclusive economic zones
A photograph of a Japan Coast Guard ship taken by the Korea Coast Guard. (provided by the Korea Coast Guard)
A photograph of a Japan Coast Guard ship taken by the Korea Coast Guard. (provided by the Korea Coast Guard)

The South Korean and Japanese coast guards faced off for three straight days, each claiming the waters off the southern end of Jeju Island as part of their own exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This is a new source of conflict in a relationship already strained over a Korean court’s ruling on the Japanese military’s “comfort women” system.

On Jan. 12, the Korea Coast Guard (KCG) said, “We discovered a Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessel in waters 70 nautical miles [around 126 km] southeast of Seogwipo, Jeju, at 11:45 pm on Jan. 10, and we have been demanding that it leave those waters.”

“The Coast Guard has dispatched a 3,000-ton ship, and as of 3 pm [today], we were observing the ship’s activities closely at a distance of three nautical miles [around 5 km],” it added.

A KCG official explained, “The South Korean and Japanese EEZs overlap in these waters. It’s supposed to be determined through diplomatic discussions, but both are now claiming them as their own waters.”

“We are engaging in legitimate activities in our own waters,” the official asserted.

On Jan. 11, Japan’s NHK network reported that “the Japan Coast Guard survey ship Shoyo was conducting a survey at a location around 140 kilometers west of Meshima at the western end of Nagasaki’s Goto Islands, which falls within Japan’s EEZ, when a KCG vessel began sending radio commands for it to halt its survey.”

According to the NHK, the KCG demanded that the vessel immediately suspend its survey, insisting that it “needed prior permission from the South Korean government to conduct scientific surveys in South Korean waters.” In response, the JCG maintained that it was “engaged in legitimate survey activities in Japan’s EEZ” and called on the KCG to “immediately cease its demands and move away from the vessel.” The network also said a similar run-in between the KCG and JCG had occurred last August.

South Korea and Japan have drawn borders for fishing based on their fisheries agreement, which entered into force in January 1999. But they have yet to reach an agreement on the EEZ borders due to conflicting territorial claims, including those related to Dokdo. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries may designate an EEZ extending 200 nautical miles from their respective coast. In cases like South Korea and Japan’s when their territories are adjacent, they are supposed to draw suitable borders in between based on discussions.

South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Spokesperson Choi Young-sam said the South Korean government was “engaged in legitimate ongoing law enforcement activities in waters that fall under South Korean government jurisdiction based on international law and related statutes.”

“The relevant South Korean institutions have determined that the location of the Japanese vessel corresponds to South Korea’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” he explained.

A MOFA official acknowledged that Japan “has indeed protested this matter.”

“The South Korean government has stated that the waters are under our jurisdiction and that the [KCG’s] activities were legitimate, and demanded that Japan’s maritime survey activities be immediately suspended,” the official said.

But with Japan insisting that it plans to finish the survey as scheduled by February, the dispute is expected to continue.

Meanwhile, the KCG reported that the JCG ship had departed South Korean waters at 4:24 pm on Jan. 12.

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter, and Lee Jung-ha, Incheon correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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