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Japan is seeking to establish an exclusive economic zone around the atoll. Photo: Wikipedia

China criticises Japan’s ‘selfish’ attempt to extend claim in Philippine Sea

  • Tokyo has applied to the United Nations to extend the exclusive economic zone and limits of the continental shelf around Okinotori reef
  • China and South Korea have both criticised the move and said that as a reef Tokyo has no right to extend its claims

China has criticised Japan’s attempt to extend its claim to waters off a reef in the Philippine Sea as acting its own “selfish interests”.

The Japanese government has applied to the United Nations to establish a 200-nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone around the Okinotori reef, which would give it special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources within an area of more than 400,000 sq km.

Tokyo has also submitted a request to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond the 200-nautical mile baseline, which would add some further 300,000 sq km to its administration if approved.

Okinotori is 1,740km (1,080 miles) south of Tokyo and is the southernmost land feature administered by Japan.

Its claims have been disputed by its neighbours, including China and South Korea, who argue that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Okinotori does not count as an island and so Japan is not entitled to claim an exclusive economic zone, much less extend the continental shelf.

Philippines summons Chinese envoy over ‘illegal intrusion’ in inland waters

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Okinotori is a reef, not an island, and cannot have an exclusive economic zone or a continental shelf.

“Japan’s claim to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on this reef is contrary to international law.”

Zhao told a regular press conference that Okinotori has a surface area of less than 10 square meters above water at high tide, but Japan is using this reef to claim nearly 700,000 sq km of waters to its jurisdiction.


Explained: the history of China’s territorial disputes

Explained: the history of China’s territorial disputes

“It is encroaching on the high seas and the international seabed area and undermining the overall interests of the international community for its own selfish interests,” he said.

Taiwanese fishermen also occasionally have conflicts with Japanese law enforcement around the reef. In April 2016, Japan arrested the crew of Taiwanese fishing ship who had entered the 200 nautical mile zone.

But Taipei said it “takes no specific legal position” regarding whether it is a reef or island.

Philippines establishes outposts in disputed South China Sea

The convention on the law of the sea, which Japan signed in 1983, determines that “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone”.

China has also been accused of making claims contrary to the convention, including in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. In 2016 an international court ruled that Chinese-controlled features in the Spratly archipelago were all reefs.