Tokyo demanded Wednesday that Seoul halt the marine study being conducted by a South Korean vessel near a pair of disputed islets under the South’s control in the Sea of Japan in an area Tokyo claims as part of its exclusive economic zone.
Ra said he urged Japan to exercise “restraint” to keep relations from deteriorating further, alluding to Tokyo’s plan to conduct a marine study where the countries’ EEZ claims overlap.
According to a Foreign Ministry official, Ra was referring to the possibility that Japanese patrol boats may try to obstruct the South Korean survey.
Yachi told Ra it is “extremely regrettable” that South Korea launched the survey despite Japan’s repeated requests not to do so, and proposed negotiations to arrange for each side to notify the other of scientific studies in disputed waters, the officials said.
Yachi was also quoted as telling Ra that Japan will conduct its own maritime survey near the islets “at an appropriate time.” Japan initially planned to conduct the survey in April.
Both Yachi and Ra recognized the importance of making a breakthrough in the next round of bilateral talks on demarcating the EEZ in September, the official said, indicating the key role the talks are playing in the current standoff.
“The survey ship is currently exploring the waters near the Dokdo islets, and the area Japan insists is Japan’s EEZ will be covered today,” the official was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity.
Japan called off a seabed study in April after the South sent gunboats to the area and the two sides struck a deal to defuse the confrontation.
The Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel Daisen is monitoring the movements of the survey ship, which in turn is being escorted by a South Korean patrol ship.
The JCG said it asked the South Korean ship to halt its research activities by radio after the vessel entered the waters claimed by Japan.
The South Korean ship replied, “We are conducting a maritime survey in South Korea’s EEZ, so please do not interfere.”
The South Korean ship entered the disputed zone without advance notice. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country planning to enter another’s EEZ is required to give such notice, the JCG said.
South Korea said Monday it was starting research on ocean currents including near the disputed islets, renewing bilateral tensions.
The 2,533-ton Ocean-2000, which belongs to South Korea’s National Oceanographic Research Institute, left the port of Busan on Sunday night for the survey.
Japan and South Korea became entangled in a bitter dispute in April when the Japan Coast Guard announced plans to conduct a seabed survey near the islets, prompting Seoul to issue a strong protest and dispatch gunboats.
The two countries averted a confrontation in a vice ministerial meeting held in Seoul in April. As part of the compromise that ended the crisis, Japan dropped its planned seabed study.
Talks were held on June 12 and 13 to try and demarcate the two countries’ EEZs near the islets — the first such talks on the issue in six years — but they ended in stalemate. The two sides agreed to hold another round in September in Seoul.
Japan insists the two islets, which are only inhabited by a small South Korean garrison, and numerous reefs with a total area of 230,000 sq. meters, are part of Shimane Prefecture, while South Korea claims they belong to its North Gyeongsang Province.
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