In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Russia sent radiation-collecting airplanes into Japanese airspace, which had to be chased off by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
Russia was unapologetic about it. “As we are close to Japan, we must obtain accurate information on the situation,” said the Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
On Dec. 9, South Korea and Russia took further steps to check the radioactive contamination of the seas around Japan. In Seoul, Russia and South Korea signed a memorandum to carry out joint surveys of the seas around Japan.
In South Korea, distrust of Japan’s data on radioactive contamination of the oceans around Japan runs high.
“The (joint) survey is probably a move on the part of South Korea to force the Japanese government to be more forthcoming with data,” say Japanese observers in Seoul.
According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, the areas that will be surveyed are the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific area off Japan.
Problems of checking for radiation without coming into conflict with Japan
Japan claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from its territorial waters. This covers around 4 million square miles of the Pacific, the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. A small part of the EEZ is jointly administered with South Korea. Other parts are disputed with South Korea and Russia.
While part of the survey can probably be carried out in areas outside Japan’s EEZ, it is doubtful whether convincing figures can be produced without entering Japan’s EEZ, virtually within sight of Japan’s coast.
As a rule, foreign ships are not allowed to conduct maritime surveys in the EEZ of other countries without special permission, although it is open sea with the right of free transit.
According to South Korean sources, “South Korea originally wanted there to be a three-way agreement between Japan, South Korea and Russia to conduct these surveys. But Japan’s foot-dragging led South Korea and Russia to make an independent agreement.”
For all the many South Korean restaurants in Japan and popularity of Korean dramas on Japanese TV, there is no love lost between the Japanese and South Korean government. Both countries claim the small rocky outcrop in the Sea of Japan — “Dokdo” in Korean, and “Takeshima” in Japanese — which is the source of disproportionate nationalist friction.
As for Russia, relations are cool and correct. Japan claims the Russian “Kurils,” known as the “Northern Territories,” and there is still not a peace treaty between them ending WWII because of this disagreement.
South Korea and Russia may feel their reasons for conducting oceanic surveys are good, but it could well mean sailing into difficult diplomatic waters.