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Japan to object to China's bid to extend shelf

The Yomiuri SHimbun

Publication Date : 24-09-2012


Japan plans to file an objection to China's application to extend the outer limit of its continental shelf in the East China Sea, if Beijing submits it to a United Nations panel.

Earlier this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced its intention to submit such an application to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a move believed to be retaliation against Japan's purchase of three of the Senkaku Islands (known in China as Diaoyu Islands) in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture.

The Japanese government plans to claim demarcation of a border on the continental shelf between Japan and China is beyond the jurisdiction of the commission, as the two countries have not yet agreed on their maritime boundary in the East China Sea.

Based on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, nations are granted the right to survey and exploit natural resources on the seabed and beneath the ocean floor within 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometres) from their coastlines. The convention also allows nations to extend the outer limits of their continental shelves to a maximum of 350 nautical miles (about 650 kilometres) from their coasts. This can only occur if a country can scientifically prove the natural prolongation of its continental shelves based on their shape and geological features.

The UN panel reviews applications to extend continental shelves, and decides whether a nation's claim is substantiated.

Apart from its sovereignty claim to the Senkaku Islands, the Chinese government has been insisting the nation's continental shelf stretches beyond the 200-nautical-mile limit to the Okinawa Trough, which is closer to Japan than the Senkaku Islands. Beijing is expected to apply to expand its continental shelf to include the ocean floor around the trough, which runs underwater off the Nansei Islands.

The Nansei island chain stretches from Kagoshima Prefecture to Taiwan, including the Okinawa Islands and the Amami Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture.

To counter China's claim, the Japanese government plans to state it is inappropriate for the application to be handled by the UN panel, based on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea stipulating the boundary of a continental shelf between two adjoining countries or those that face each other across the sea should be decided by the countries themselves.

The government has refrained from expressing its opinion on the Senkakus conflict to the international community due to its standpoint that no territorial dispute exists over the islands.

However, as China's envisaged application to the UN panel is believed to be a retaliatory measure protesting Japan's purchase of three of the Senkakus, the Japanese government concluded filing an objection to the panel could help the international community understand the legitimacy of Japan's territorial claim on the islands.

The government also plans to file an objection with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon over China's submission Sept. 13 of a nautical map showing the seas around the Senkakus as part of Chinese territory.

The United Nations does not have the authority to settle such issues. Still, the government hopes it can appeal to the body to recognise the legitimacy of Japan's claims by submitting documents proving the nation owns the islands.


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