China on Tuesday confirmed what it termed its "firm opposition" to Japan's bid to extend its continental shelf in the southern Pacific. Meanwhile, India is planning to add up to 100 warships to its fleet over the next decade, as it seeks to modernise its armed forces; develop low-cost shipbuilding capabilities and support the search for seabed minerals.
Last November, Japan submitted an application to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, asking for recognition of Japan's continental shelf based on the what China terms the "so-called Okinotori Island."
A sub-panel of the UN Commission began to examine Japan's submission last week, and China has lodged its opposition.
What Japan calls Okinotori Island, some 1,740 km south of Tokyo, was merely an atoll that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of its own, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a news briefing.
She said Japan's application to claim exclusive economic zones or continental shelves based on such an atoll violated the regulations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLS). The bid has attracted attention from the international community.
According to Article 121 of the UNCLS, rocks which can not sustain human habitation or economic life of their own, should have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
"China's position on the issue is consistent, and we hope the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will handle the problem properly,"Jiang said.
According to UN rules, nations can claim a right to a continental shelf extending beyond their 200-nautical mile coast boundaries if they have evidence to support the claim.
Okino-Tori-shima is a small, extremely isolated reef located near the centre of the Philippine Sea region of the western Pacific Ocean. The reef lies 1,190 km northwest from US-controlled Guam and 1,062 km southeast from Okinawa (in the Ryukyu Archipelago). The closest landfall to Okino-Tori-shima is the small island of Oki-Daitō-jima, 675 km to the northwest.
Okino-Tori-shima consists of a 4.5 km long, mostly submerged reef formation with an approximate area of 8 km². Its outer reef crest protects a shallow interior lagoon, within which are found three small artificial islets (concreted over), a research platform and a number of emergent rocks.
In 2005, the New York Times said the smaller of the two islets is roughly the size of a twin bed and pokes 7.4 centimeters out of the ocean. The larger, as big as a small bedroom, rises about twice as high.
Up to that time, the Japanese government had already spent $600 million to keep the two barren islets in the western Pacific above water. The islets have long allowed Japan to assert exclusive economic control over an ocean area larger than all of the country.
Meanwhile, India plans to extend its fleet of 120 ships by up to 100 warships, in response to China's growing presence in the waters of South Asia, which are believed to have a seabed that is rich in reserves of oil and gas, and minerals such as manganese, cadmium and nickel, as land-based resources are depleted.
The FT reports that the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography, has surveyed an area of nearly 4km² in the central Indian Ocean basin that has led to findings of “significant commercial grades” of copper, nickel, iron and cobalt deposits.
India has exclusive rights there, from the International Seabed Authority for exploration.