China hits 'selfish' Japan for claiming sea between Taiwan, Guam

Recognition of Japan's claims could potentially constrain China's naval activities in the area. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China blasted Japan for a "selfish" claim over an area of the Pacific Ocean larger than France, reigniting a longstanding territorial fight between Asia's two largest economies.

Japan has long claimed Okinotori, which is approximately halfway between Taiwan and Guam, as its southern-most island.

China says it's merely a reef, and doesn't entitle Japan to benefits such as a 200 nautical-mile radius exclusive economic zone that would apply to an island under international law.

"Japan, in pursuit of selfish interest, has illegally staked claim to nearly 700,000 square kilometres of jurisdictional waters based on the tiny reef," Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday (May 31), adding that this "undermines the overall interests of the international community."

The uninhabited territory consists of low-lying rocks that have been augmented with concrete by Japan, in a precursor to similar but more ambitious projects undertaken by China in the South China Sea.

Recognition of Japan's claims could potentially constrain China's naval activities in the area.

Beijing has stepped up surveys of surrounding waters and its scholars recently published a number of reports disputing Japan's analysis, according to the Sankei newspaper.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own bring no entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.

Artificial islands do not have a territorial sea of their own under Unclos. An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China's own efforts to assert control over the South China Sea, partly through territorial claims stemming from artificial islands, exceeded its legal rights under the UN Law of the Sea.

China refused to accept the ruling on procedural grounds.

In response to questions about China's scientific reports on Okinotori, Japanese chief Cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said May 30 the country's 2008 application to the Unclos Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf was based on plentiful scientific evidence.

South Korea also disputes Japan's claims.

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