The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade established a new division in the ministry to deal with Dokdo islets and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East Sea, which have been a bone of contention between Korea and Japan.
The Marine Legal Affairs Division will take charge of maritime legal affairs such as Dokdo, the EEZ and other marine issues as Seoul faces increased work in that area, the ministry said.
Dokdo and the EEZ issues are very complicated and require comprehensive studies, and that’s why we set up a new division to take charge of the issues, Lee Jae-wan, director of the division, told The Korea Times.
Lee, who holds a Ph.D. in international law, said his division will first focus on research on the marine legal affairs, collecting relevant case documents from academia and professionals for the time being.
The division will build up a theoretical background with the research, and then try to propose policies.
There are only two working-level officials and a director in the division, and the division is under the process of hiring experts on marine legal affairs.
Seoul and Tokyo have held seven rounds of EEZ talks so far but little progress has been made because of Japan’s claim to Korea’s eastern most islets.
Seoul proposes a median line between Dokdo in the East Sea and Japan as the EEZ boundary while Tokyo maintains its position that the line should be drawn up between Dokdo and Ullung Island.
Located roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan, the islets are at the center of a decade-old dispute over maritime borders as ownership of them means a significantly expanded EEZ.
The Korean islets were annexed by Japan along with the Korean Peninsula in 1910, but Japan claims its territorial rights to the islets were declared five years before the start of the Japanese colonial rule.
Historians, however, say Korea had already been under effective control of Japan well before the start of the 20th century.
By Yoon Won-sup