South Korea Challenges Beijing’s Territorial Claims Over Seabed

South Korea challenged China’s claims over rights to exclusive economic control of ocean floor territory in the East China Sea as disputes in the region sour trade and diplomatic relations.

The South Korean government submitted a document to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York extending its territorial claim over a continental shelf to include parts of the Okinawa Trough, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. The seabed is near five uninhabited islands at the center of a dispute between China and Japan.

“Our rights follow the national extension of the Korean peninsula’s continental shelf in the East China Sea to the Okinawa Trough,” the ministry said, stretching the country’s entitlement over ocean bottom territory by the maximum limit of 350 nautical miles (648 kilometers) from its southern coastline.

China made its own claims to the UN on Dec. 14, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, as the three nations and their new leaders map out their diplomatic strategies. Rising tensions have cost Japanese automakers market share in China, with the Japanese forecast to suffer production cuts into 2014.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea allows nations to claim economic control over waters and seabed extending 200 nautical miles from their shores. In this zone, a country can have special rights to explore and use resources, such as generating energy from water, currents and winds.

Countries can also extend their seabed territory to the maximum limit of 350 nautical miles if they can prove that the area is a natural prolongation of their dry landmass.

“Our claim is separate from setting sovereign maritime boundaries within the relevant waters, which will be decided through negotiations among the three nations,” the ministry said.

The disputed islands are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Incursions by Chinese vessels and an airplane near them in the East China Sea have raised tensions in recent months.

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