South Korea’s neighbors have challenged the peninsular state’s maritime boundaries on both east and west. On May 1, Chinese fishermen continued to ignore South Korea’s claims to an exclusive economic zone in the Yellow Sea by brutally attacking five West Sea Fisheries Supervision Office agents. Beijing, according to Yonhap, expressed its “sadness” to South Korea concerning the incident and promised to “educate” Chinese fishermen on the finer points of maritime law. The Chosun Daily has repeated the concern, that Fisheries agents lack proper defensive gear, to deal with aggressive Chinese fishermen brandishing axes and willing to deploy any object that could injure or kill an agent boarding their vessels.
Yet only 107 out of 210 agents with the West Sea Fisheries Supervision Office have been issued with protective armor. All agents must be equipped with safety gear that can protect their lives.
But the government cannot keep boosting its budget forever to increase the number of patrol boats, equipment and personnel to crack down on illegal fishing. It needs to bolster its negotiating power so that China will at long last have to think about doing something about this menace.
The same editorial suggests, that “…the government needs to consider letting Chinese and Korean fishermen share the profits made from what they catch in the West Sea.” According to Andrew Shen, in a December 2011 piece, Beijing would likely scoff at that proposal.
Frankly, the problem is that China’s overfished and depleted waters are forcing fisherman further and further out into sea, where they are running into more and more trouble with Korean and Japanese coast guards.
As the Chosun Daily claims, South Korea needs China’s trade more than China needs Korea’s: “China is the biggest market for Korean exports, accounting for 30 percent of outbound shipments, but Korea takes up only 4 percent of China’s exports.”
Meanwhile, on the east end, Japan and South Korea are bickering over a name.
Unable to agree on what to call that body of water, delegates from the two East Asian neighbors have come home bruised but unbowed from last week’s meeting of the International Hydrographic Organization In Monaco.
The issue there was whether the world’s map makers would continue to call the body of water the “Sea of Japan,” as Tokyo wanted, or also label it the “East Sea,” as Seoul had been requesting. For weeks before – and then during- the meeting on the sunny Riviera, diplomats and maritime officials from Tokyo and Seoul had thrown uncharacteristically harsh words at each other.
Some citizens got so excited that their online signatures overwhelmed a web site at an unexpected place: the White House. As of Tuesday, the “We the People” petitions tool had received 99,733 signatures from people asking for the use of the East Sea in American text books – a number described by a senior U.S. officials as “unprecedented.”
I acknowledge the bitterness this issue causes South Koreans. But, in politics, only rivals and enemies form alliances, and there’s common ground here for the South Koreans and Japanese to take on the Chinese. The price? The Sea of Japan.
Disclaimer: I am no international legal expert.
The overriding issue is the difficulties created by Article 59 of the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). After establishing the 200-mile rule in Article 57, Article 56 lapses into the sort of limp legalese most laypeople find so frustrating.
In cases where this Convention does not attribute rights or jurisdiction to the coastal State or to other States within the exclusive economic zone, and a conflict arises between the interests of the coastal State and any other State or States, the conflict should be resolved on the basis of equity and in the light of all the relevant circumstances, taking into account the respective importance of the interests involved to the parties as well as to the international community as a whole.
Literally, South Korean Fisheries agents, Japanese Coast Guard , and Chinese fishermen are dying because of the “relevant circumstances”. There doesn’t seem to be any interpretations of “equity” all three states can accept (here’s one, for what it’s worth). If Japan and South Korea could see their way to drop their Sea of Japan dispute, and could agree upon an interpretation of “equity” each could live and prosper with, together both might just be able to convince a majority of states to oppose China. Not only would both Japan and South Korea gain unchallenged rights to a maritime zone – Korea in the Sea of Japan; Japan in the East China Sea – but they would also help other states end their disputes.
Yeah, I know…