Is This Submerged Rock East Asia’s Next Flashpoint?

A boat is thrashed by waves near Jeju Island, which is near Sokora Island

Kim Ho-cheon/AP Photo/Yonhap

AA Font size + Print

A boat is thrashed by waves near Jeju Island, which is near Sokora Island

Caught between China, Japan and South Korea, this underwater island could become become another spot where tempers flare. By Lily Kuo

This story has been updated.

There is a submerged rock in the Yellow Sea that seafaring Korean families once believed to be the home of the spirits of dead fishermen. The rock’s name in English is Socotra Rock; in Korea, it’s referred to as Ieodo, and in China the Suyan Rock. Whatever the language, it’s at the center of a new global hot zone that is threatening to destabilize relations in East Asia.

In response to China’s creation of a controversial air defense identification zone two weeks ago, the South Korean government has expanded its air defense identification zone as well. As of Dec. 15, Korea’s ADIZ will be about 66,480 sq. km larger—about two thirds the size of the country—and encompass Socotra, which China also included in its air defense zone. South Korean officials had asked China to remove Socotra from its ADIZ, but Chinese officials refused. Further complicating matters, the rock also falls under Japan’s air defense identification zone, though the country doesn’t make any claims to it.

The Green line outline’s Japan’s ADIZ set up by Japan. The blue dotted line is South Korea’s current ADIZ and the red line shows how far it will be extended. The gray dotted line is China’s ADIZ. AP/Lee Jin-man

Both China and Korea say the rock, submerged about five meters (15 feet) below the sea’s surface, is part of their “exclusive economic zones” (EEZ). UN maritime law says that a country’s EEZ extends up to 370 km from its territory, but also that submerged rocks can’t be claimed by any country as territory. (Nations can, however, control and use the sea and natural resources around the rock.)

The conflict over this little-known rock has mostly been overshadowed by higher profile territorial disputes like the Senkaku/Diayu Islands in the East China Sea, and the Spratly Island chains in the South China Sea. But in some ways, Socotra is just as pivotal. South Korea has built a maritime research station and helipad atop the submerged rock, which sits in the middle of most of Korea’s incoming and outgoing sea traffic. Some scientists think the reef is home to natural gas and mineral deposits. Korea is also building a new naval base on the nearby Jeju Island, a move that some security observers say is a response to China’s rising military power.

For now, though, the risk of conflict still appears low. China has responded by saying only that Beijing “expresses regret over South Korea’s expansion of its air defense identification zone” and that officials hard registered their concern with Seoul. The two countries are in a phase of relatively good diplomatic relations, characterized by increasing trade. But if people start glimpsing the top of the rock, it might be time to start worrying—according to Korean legend it’s an omen of imminent seaborne danger.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.