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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

South Korea draws a tougher line as EEZ talks reopen


Staff writer

Japan and South Korea kicked off two days of negotiations Monday in Tokyo aimed at determining the boundaries of their exclusive economic zones in the Sea of Japan, but an agreement is unlikely as Seoul was expected to draw its line even closer to Japan than at present.

During the two-day meeting, Seoul reportedly plans to reveal a new, tougher proposal that would incorporate a cluster of islets it controls — and also claimed by Japan — into its EEZ claim. The islets are called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

The talks are the first on the EEZ issue in six years. The two countries held similar discussions from 1996 to 2000 but failed to reach an accord.

Seoul officials have indicated to reporters they intend to propose drawing the boundary along the median line between the islets and the island of Okinoshima, which would enlarge South Korea's EEZ at Japan's expense.

In the previous talks, South Korea did not make the islets a base point for its EEZ claim because, according to the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, to which both nations are signatories, uninhibited islands cannot be used to demarcate an EEZ boundary. There is now a small South Korean garrison on the islets.

Previously, Seoul said the boundary should be the median line between Ullung Island in South Korea, 87.4 km west of the disputed islets, and Okinoshima, Shimane Prefecture. South Korea is now expected to claim the islets as the base point in an effort to strengthen its claim to the area.

In the 1996 talks, the two sides agreed to set aside the question of sovereignty over the disputed islets and at the same time to promote talks on where the EEZ line should be drawn.

"We will make our utmost efforts to see meaningful developments from the discussions today and tomorrow," Foreign Ministry official Ichiro Komatsu said at the beginning of the talks. "We expect South Korea to attend the meeting with a similar attitude."

Japan has argued the EEZ boundary should be the median line between Takeshima and the Ullung islands.

Japan and South Korea agreed to resume the EEZ talks after the two countries averted a diplomatic crisis in April, when Tokyo backed down from plans to attempt a seabed survey near the islets.

"The negotiations won't settle (the dispute) in only two days. We hope it will be a step toward subsequent talks," a senior Foreign Ministry official said earlier.

The South Korean delegation is led by Park Hee Kwon, director general for the Treaties Bureau of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

After the end of Monday's session, Komatsu met reporters but declined to answer any questions about the substance of the discussions.

But a senior Foreign Ministry official said Japan would propose during the talks that a system be created to notify each other in advance when one side plans a maritime survey in the disputed area.



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