Beijing: China and Japan have exchanged a fresh round of claims and counter claims over a tiny but crucial outcropping in the Pacific Ocean, with Tokyo asserting that a UN commission had endorsed its stand on the atoll being an 'island' while Beijing rejecting it as "baseless".
The two countries, that have their own set of disputes in the South China Sea, have also been sparring over the status of the Okinotori Atoll and the continental shelf area around it in the Philippine Sea.
Okinotori Atoll, some 1,700 km south of Tokyo, is only about 10 square metres above sea level at high tide.
While Japan has sought to change the status of Okinotori into an "island", which would imply Japan's rights to claim its surrounding area as an exclusive economic zone, China has insisted that the atoll is merely a rock and cannot be recognised as an island.
On Saturday, Japanese government officials were quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency that the UN commission on seabed claims had adopted a recommendation recognising around 310,000 sq km of seabed around Okinotori as part of Japan's continental shelf.
However, China today rejected the claim as "absolutely baseless" and in turn welcomed the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf's decision not to endorse Japanese claims over the geopolitical classification of Okinotori.
"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," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing here today.
"Japan's allegation that Okinotori Atoll has been adopted by the commission as an 'island' is absolutely baseless," he said.
He was referring to reports in the Japanese media that the UN Commission had agreed with Japan that the sea basin north of Okinotori Atoll is part of its continental shelf, and thus Okinotori was recognised as an "island" and could be used as a territorial "base point".
China and Japan have been involved in a protracted dispute over the atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Hong said Japan's request submitted to the commission involved some 740,000 square km but only 310,000 square km was recognised by the UN 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," he said.
China and South Korea have opposed Japan's attempt to
claim areas based on Okinotori Atoll as part of its continental shelf, as they contend that 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," Hong said.
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 said.
First Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 18:49