TOKYO • After the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague ruled that none of the China-claimed Spratly Islands is an island, Japan finds itself in a similar fix.
The Japanese government is thus poring over the details of Tuesday's ruling to determine its impact on Okinotorishima, which means "distant bird island".
Okinotorishima is a 7.8 sq km atoll located about 1,740km south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean. At high tide, two parts of the atoll jut out of the water.
Under international law, an island, which should be "above water at high tide", is entitled to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Tokyo claims an EEZ of 400,000 sq km - slightly larger than the country's total land area - around Okinotorishima. It has also tried to bolster its claim by pouring in millions of dollars to protect the coral reefs and build concrete embankments.
Within the EEZ, Japan has first priority to exercise fishing rights and the rights to develop resources believed to be worth trillions of yen, including rare earth minerals, on the ocean floor.
But China, despite its own island-building efforts in the Spratlys, has long disputed Japan's EEZ claim, insisting that the islets making up the atoll are actually rocks.
Though Tuesday's ruling is legally binding on only the Philippines and China, a source in the Japanese government said: "The consequences can be serious, because there is a possibility that Japan will be sued by other countries in the court of arbitration in the future."
Japan is concerned that China may use the ruling to present new arguments about the status of Okinotorishima under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
While experts do not expect this to happen, some say that Tokyo might just lose any case over Okinotorishima. This is because of the precedent set by the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling on Manila's case challenging Beijing's South China Sea claims.
YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK