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China welcomes UN decision over Japanese "island" claims

(Xinhua)

08:10, May 17, 2012

BEIJING, May 16 (Xinhua) -- China on Wednesday welcomed a decision by a United Nations (UN) commission not to adopt Japanese claims over the geopolitical classification of Okinotori Atoll, an outcropping in the Philippine Sea.

"Japan's claim of its outer continental shelf based on Okinotori Atoll was not acknowledged by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in response to a question at a regular press conference, quoting information released by the UN agency.

"Japan's allegation that Okinotori Atoll has been adopted by the commission as an 'island' is absolutely baseless," said the spokesman.

Japanese media, quoting government officials in the country, reported on April 28 that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf agreed with Japan that the sea basin north of Okinotori Atoll is part of its continental shelf, and thus said Okinotori was recognized as an "island" and could be used as a territorial "base point."

However, Hong denied Japan's rights to the outcropping, citing the commission to explain, "As mentioned by the Japanese side, the commission recognized the Shikoku Basin Region north of Okinotori Atoll as part of Japan's outer continental shelf. But in fact the recognition was based on other parts of Japan's land territory, not related to Okinotori Atoll."

Hong said Japan's request submitted to the commission involved some 740,000 square km but only 310,000 square km was recognized by the body.

"The areas claimed by Japan as part of its outer continental shelf but not accepted by the commission include the 250,000-square-km southern Kyushu-Palau ridge based on Okinotori Atoll," added the spokesman.

Okinotori Atoll, some 1,700 km south of Tokyo, is only about 10 square meters above sea level at high tide.

According to Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or an economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf status.

An EEZ is an area of sea over which a state has exclusive rights of exploration.

China and South Korea have opposed Japan's illegal attempt to claim areas based on Okinotori Atoll as part of its continental shelf, as Okinotori is a group of rocks and not classifiable as an "island."

"Many countries have also expressed their objection against Japan's illegal claims relating to Okinotori Atoll," noted the spokesman.

According to Hong, the commission's decision concerning Okinotori Atoll is "fair and reasonable" and in line with international law.

"[The commission] has safeguarded the common interests of the whole international community and China welcomes the decision," he added.

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