Going to Okinotori?


Of course you are. You’re a world traveler. You’ve been everywhere. When you get to Okinotori, make sure you wear flippers:

…Jiang [Yu] had more to say on the subject of little-known Pacific atolls Thursday, when she charged that reported Japanese plans to build a port on Okinotori, which lies 1,050 miles south of Tokyo, “do not conform with international maritime law.”

She was careful not to describe Okinotori as an island, however, nor even as an islet, an atoll, or a reef, since China calls it a rock.
The distinction is subtle but legally crucial. Under the 1982 Law of the Sea, “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone.”

China appears to want access to the area near Okinotori so that its submarines can map the seabed there, in readiness for any conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own. Okinotori lies on the route US warships would take from Guam to Taiwan if they were called on to defend the island. The 160,000 square miles of ocean that Japan claims is also thought to be rich in minerals.

Map, showing the location of OkinotoriJapan has gone to great lengths over the past two decades to protect Okinotori from erosion and keep it above water, surrounding the tiny reef with wavebreakers filled with concrete. Aside from an observation platform on stilts, housing a meteorological station, only three lumps of rock protrude from the sea at high tide; they have all been reinforced with concrete, and one has been given a titanium shield to protect it from damage by wave-borne debris.

Japanese experts have also gone to great intellectual lengths to defend Tokyo’s right to extend an Exclusive Economic Zone from Okinotori, arguing that there is no definition of “rock” in international law.

That arrow you see at the top points to the observation platform. The rest? The rest is Okinotori, silly. You can see that it sits out there in what is practically the middle of nowhere. And if you have to ask where it went when the tide rolls in, you probably aren’t going to have a blast when you visit, sir.