A tiny Japanese island may complicate the recent ruling in the South China Sea

It seems that building artificial islands is considered chic these days.

Qatar and Dubai are in the process of making their own. China is as well; albeit to the dismay of their neighbours throughout the South China Sea.

But there’s another country involved in building islands in Asia that could make everything significantly more complicated.

At nine square meters, Japan’s southernmost “island” of Okinotori has in the past drawn little attention. However, given the recent ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, it may come under scrutiny by other nations, namely China.

According to Forbes contributor Ralph Jennings, Japan has thus far spent $600 million on reinforcing the island with cement and steel breakwaters — even going so far as to grow coral around the area. Located 1,700 kilometers south of Tokyo, it contains several key elements for Japan’s naval activity, such as a three-level observatory that’s able to scan for ships.

If in fact Japan’s claim of its sovereign 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from Okinotori remains uncontested, Japan would be able to oversee all shipping activity within that radius.

Earlier this year, Japan and Taiwan had a dispute over the detainment of a Taiwanese vessel that allegedly fell within the bounds of its EEZ. Although talks between the two nations are underway and the conflict seems to be put at rest for now, China has continued to dispute Japan’s authority in the area.

Taiwan may side with China in this argument — citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), China has asserted that Okinotori was not eligible to draw an EEZ around itself.

“As prescribed in the UNCLOS, rocks like Okinotori which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone nor continental shelf,” a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said in an article from The Diplomat.

The official continued, “Japan has violated the UNCLOS by categorising Okinotori as ‘island’ for the purpose of claiming for EEZ and continental shelf based on that. China does not recognise the illegal assertion by Japan.”

According to another quote from NBC News, former Taiwan deputy defence minister Chong-Ping Lin sheds light on the incident, “The irony is that Japan is doing exactly what it is accusing China of doing in the South China Sea.”

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