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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Socotra Rocks, Jeju: Another Territorial Dispute after Liancourt Rocks

Socotra Rocks is a submerged rock 4.6 metres (15 ft) below sea level (at low tide) located in the Yellow Sea. International maritime law stipulates that a submerged rock outside of a nation's territorial sea (generally 12 nautical miles) cannot be claimed as territory by any nation.

However, the rock is the subject of a maritime dispute between South Korea, which considers it to lie within its exclusive economic zone, referring to it as Ieodo (이어도/離於島; MR: Iŏdo) or Parangdo (파랑도/波浪島; MR: P'arangdo), and China, which considers it to lie within its exclusive economic zone and refers to it as Suyan Rock (苏岩礁). The rock serves as the foundation for Korean Ieodo Ocean Research Station. A Korean helipad is also located there to allow the research station to be serviced.

The rock is located 149 kilometres (80 nmi; 93 mi) southwest of Marado, Seogwipo City (just off Jeju island), Korea. For Japan, the island of Torishima, which is 275 km (148 nmi; 171 mi) away, is the closest territory. For China, Yushan Island of Zhejiang, is 287 km (178 mi) away from the rock.

Both "Parangdo" and "Ieodo" are names for the mythical island which the residents of Jeju island believed housed the spirits of fishermen who perished at sea. The South Korean government has asserted a direct connection between these legends and the modern-day rock, claiming that the traditional saying that "One who sees Parangdo would never return" refers to the danger facing sailors when high waves allow the rock to break the surface. Socotra Rock's Korean name was officially designated as "Ieodo" on January 26, 2001, by the Korea Institute of Geology.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a submerged reef can not be claimed as territory by any country. However, China and South Korea dispute which is entitled to claim it as part of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

In September 2006, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦刚) told reporters that China objects to South Korea's "unilateral" activities in the region, referring to Korean science observation facilities on this reef island, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman has claimed to be "illegal". However, Chinese reports notes that Qin Gang said the two countries never had a "territorial dispute," not mentioning any islands. In 2013 the PRC clarified their position by stating that China had no dispute with Korea on the issue.