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(LEAD) S. Korea verifying reports of China's plan to monitor Ieodo with drones

All Headlines 16:22 September 25, 2012

(ATTN: ADDS foreign ministry spokesman's quote in para 4; RECASTS lead para)

SEOUL, Sept. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is seeking to verify media reports that China plans to use unmanned drones to conduct marine surveillance of a submerged South Korean rocky outcropping in waters south of Jeju Island, officials said Tuesday.

If the Chinese plan is tantamount to laying a jurisdictional claim to Ieodo, Seoul will request Beijing to stop the surveillance and lodge a protest, a foreign ministry official said.

"We are verifying media reports and the Chinese side has not delivered its official stance to us," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"If China's intention of surveillance is aimed at laying a jurisdictional claim to Ieodo, we will protest and request China stop taking the measure."

Later in the day, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young confirmed that the ministry was verifying the reports, adding that South Korea "will do everything possible to ensure its jurisdictional control of Ieodo within its economic exclusive zone."

According to some Chinese media reports this week, Beijing plans to use unmanned aircraft by 2015 to monitor uninhabited islands. The plan appears to mainly target islands at the center of a bitter territorial dispute with Japan, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, but the reports also said Ieodo would be subject to the planned surveillance.

Ieodo, which is 4.6 meters under sea level, lies within the overlapping exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China. Although international maritime law stipulates that a submerged rock cannot be claimed as territory by any country, South Korea effectively controls Ieodo, which is closer to it than any other country.

South Korea has taken steps to reinforce its jurisdictional control over the islet and in 2003 built an unmanned maritime research station on it to monitor weather conditions and survey maritime features in the area.

Ieodo is located 149 kilometers southwest of Korea's southernmost island of Marado and 247 kilometers northeast of the nearest Chinese island Tongdao.

South Korea and China have been in negotiations on the delimitation of their economic exclusive zones in waters near Ieodo since 1996, but little headway was reported.


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