China and South Korea achieved a breakthrough in their long-stalled maritime border issues by holding a preparatory consultation on Jan 29 that should pave the way for talks on drawing a maritime border.
Observers hailed the meeting as an achievement, since it is expected to lay a foundation for the more substantial negotiations, and set principles, a road map and a schedule for the talks.
Officials from both countries’ foreign ministries gathered in Shanghai in the run-up to the negotiations on drawing the maritime border to resolve issues stemming from overlapping exclusive economic zones, said Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.
Li Guoqiang, an expert on border issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the leadership of both countries have a strong willingness to tackle the biggest obstacle hindering previous demarcation talks.
Seoul has insisted that a line of equal distance from its and China’s shorelines should become the demarcation, while China has said factors including the length of each country’s shoreline should be taken into account.
Yonhap quoted a government source as saying last year that senior diplomats from China and South Korea met in June to discuss the demarcation issue, but the meeting－the first of its type in three years－failed to produce a detailed agreement.
During President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea in July, he and South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed that maritime demarcation talks would officially start this year.
The ambiguous maritime border between China and South Korea has resulted in a series of issues, including differences over Suyan Rock within the overlapping claims of exclusive economic zones as well as frequent clashes between Chinese fishermen and the South Korean Coast Guard in the Yellow Sea.
Gao Fei, a professor of diplomacy studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the talks, after being restarted, would not focus on the submerged rock, which is 4.6 meters below sea level, as the two countries agree that the rock does not have territorial status.
The Foreign Ministry maintains that ownership of Suyan Rock should be determined through negotiation.
Gao said he is optimistic about the future talks due to both sides’ political trust and close relationship. He added that an early settlement of the border issue could lead toward joint marine development.
“Both countries’ peaceful negotiation could also set an example to the other countries that have maritime issues with China in the East and South China seas,” he said.