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Japan’s $600 million investment to protect two rocks

3/4/23

By:

Saathvik Beri

Japan's Quest to Protect Two Tiny Rocks: A $600 Million Investment - That's No Small Feat!

The Okinotorishima, a coral reef with two enlarged rocks, was originally discovered by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century.


Then, a few centuries later, doing what the British do best, they claimed the Atoll, naming it “Douglas Reef”.


The small reef was finally discovered by the Japanese in 1925 by a Japanese navy ship in the area. The Japanese then claimed sovereignty over the reef, claiming jurisdiction over it and classifying it as a part of Ogasawara village.


Viewing its strategic location between Guam and Taiwan, Japan wanted to build a military base but to avoid conflict of interest they claimed they were building a “lighthouse and a meteorological observation site”.


Following WW2, the Okinotorishima fell into the hands of the U.S., who then decided they didn't want it and gave it back to Japan.


A classic U.S. move.


The atoll had pretty much no value until 1982 when the UN member states wrote and signed the very originally named “1982 UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea”.


This convention laid out the laws and definitions regarding Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which are essentially sea areas off the coast of sovereign territory controlled by a nation.


Any country can claim all the water within 200 nautical miles as their EEZ, this gives the country special economic privileges over the area, including rights to exploration and any natural resources present.


This is where the Okinotorishima Reef comes in. If the two rocks were declared an island, Japan would gain an additional 400,000 square km of EEZ. This would allow Japanese ships to fish and Japan to dig for that sweet sweet oil.


Most countries didn't really care, except of course China - China rejected Japan’s claims of Okinotorishima being an island.


Why do they care about Japan passing off two random rocks as an island you may ask? Well, China wants to scan the sea bed for their submarines to pass through in case the U.S. sends their Navy to Taiwan in case of conflict.


According to the UNCLOS, an island is "a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide”, while stating that "rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone."


And so, Japan is trying its hardest to convince the world that those two rocks are actually an island.


Seeing how the Okinotorishima is at constant risk of erosion, the Japanese government launched an embankment project, where it surrounded the two rocks with concrete and then walled off the entirety of the reef.


They then added titanium nets over one of the rocks to prevent erosion as well as create an entirely new artificial rock. To top it all off, the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center built an entire marine investigation facility just to maintain its EEZ claim.


To this day, the government has only spent $600 million trying to convince people that two rocks in the sea are somehow to be considered an island.

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