Seoul Asserts Japan Cannot Solely Develop East China Sea Shelf Post-Agreement Expiry

SEOUL - In a statement on Wednesday, a South Korean foreign ministry official declared that Japan would not have the authority to independently develop the continental shelf in the East China Sea without South Korea's approval, even after the potential expiration of a bilateral development agreement.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Korea-Japan Continental Shelf Agreement, set to end in June 2028 following a 50-year term, mandates mutual consent for the exploration and exploitation of resources in the disputed area, known as "Block 7". This region is reputed for its significant reserves of oil, gas, and minerals. The agreement's conclusion has reignited discussions, especially following remarks by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, suggesting Tokyo's intention to renegotiate the terms with Seoul upon the agreement's expiry.

The renegotiation prospects come as Japan exhibits reluctance to continue joint development, influenced by changes in international maritime law that potentially extend its exclusive economic zone to encompass nearly the entire area previously earmarked for collaborative exploration. The Seoul official emphasized that under current international norms, unilateral development by Japan in the contested waters, where both nations' claims overlap, would be impermissible without South Korea's concurrence.

The South Korean government is reportedly engaging in dialogue with Japan across various levels and conducting inter-agency discussions to anticipate and prepare for multiple outcomes. The mention of renegotiation by Japan was interpreted as a standard response to a query from a lawmaker, suggesting a principled yet cautious approach to the agreement's future.

This development signals the potential for a new point of contention between South Korea and Japan, with experts advocating for the initiation of discussions well ahead of the agreement's termination to prevent escalations.

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