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Thursday, April 20, 2006

MAPPING SEABED TO BOOST ISLES CLAIM

Survey flap said boils down to name game


Staff writer

The plan to dispatch Japan Coast Guard ships to conduct a survey in a disputed area of the Sea of Japan is rooted in the ongoing political battle between Tokyo and Seoul on naming geographical features, government officials in Tokyo claim.

In June, an international conference will be held in Germany on how to name submarine features.

South Korean officials are moving to give them Korean names to emphasize Seoul's claim to an exclusive economic zone that overlaps a zone claimed by Japan, the Japanese officials said.

Seoul's claim to the wider EEZ is based on its control over disputed islets that lie almost midway between the two nations.

The islets are known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, which has dispatched patrol vessels to keep the JCG ships away from the islets.

The idea of giving submarine topographical features South Korean names is totally unacceptable, given Japan's claim to the islets, the Tokyo officials said.

"We will conduct the research (by dispatching the ships) to collect necessary data with an eye to submitting counterproposals" for Japanese names, Shotaro Yachi, vice administrative foreign minister, told a news conference Monday.

On Friday, the Japan Coast Guard announced a plan to conduct hydrographic research sometime between April 14 and June 30 to examine submarine geographical features in a 222 km by 333 km area near to but not including the disputed islets.

"We have not conducted such research in this area where the EEZ claims of Japan and South Korea overlap for 30 years, but South Korea has conducted research in at least the past four years despite our country's protests each year," Yachi said.

This is not the first time Japan and South Korea have clashed over naming maritime features.

Seoul has argued that the Sea of Japan should be renamed the East Sea, while Tokyo has claimed that the argument is irrelevant because the name has been in use internationally since the early 19th century.

South Korean officials have reportedly threatened to seize Japan's ships if they enter the EEZ claimed by Seoul.

But Japan Coast Guard officials argue that seizure would only violate international law, pointing out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea gives jurisdiction over government ships in international waters only to the government in question, not to foreign countries.

"The survey ships are Japanese government ships, not private ships, and Japan has jurisdiction over them," Yoshinori Katori, Foreign Ministry press secretary, said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

"It's our position that international law does not allow (South Korea) to seize or inspect (another) government's ship" on the high seas.

The coast guard officials also figured the JCG dispatch posed no legal problems, given Tokyo's claim to the islets and the surrounding EEZ.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, called for "calm reactions" based on international law.

"We are trying to smoothly solve (the diplomatic issue). We have contacted South Korean officials for that purpose," Abe said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also played down the escalating tensions.

"You shouldn't get so excited," he told reporters Wednesday evening when asked for comments on reports that South Korean officials have indicated Seoul might seize JCG ships if they entered the EEZ claimed by South Korea. "I have ordered (my staff) to respond calmly, based on international law."

Abe said, "This is a scientific survey, similar to those conducted by South Korea and other countries."

The government's top spokesman would not give any details of the survey plan or comment on the fact that two JCG ships left Sakaiminato port in Tottori Prefecture Wednesday afternoon.

One senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "We can't comment if ships have left or not because South Korea would react to it again."



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The Japan Times

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