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July, 27, 2016

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Japan welcomes UN backing in Pacific atoll row

TOKYO -- Japan welcomed Saturday U.N. backing for its claim the seabed north of a Pacific atoll is part of its continental shelf, allowing Tokyo to exploit resources in the area despite Chinese and South Korean protests.

The U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf informed the Japanese government Friday that it had recognized four areas in the western Pacific as part of Japan's continental shelf, the foreign ministry said.

"The recommendation as a whole is considered as a major step forward to expand our country's maritime interests," the ministry said in a statement.

One of the approved areas was north of the Okinotorishima atoll, which is located some 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) south of Tokyo and is Japan's southernmost territory.

The atoll has caused tensions with China and South Korea, who argue that Japan should not be allowed to claim control of the seabed as the landmass is merely rocks, and not an island as Tokyo claims.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that a country can claim control of the seabed beyond its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone if it can prove the ocean floor is connected to its continental shelf.

In 2008, Japan asked the U.N. commission to approve the extension of its continental shelf in seven areas, including two areas surrounding the Okinotorishima atoll.

Friday's recommendation will allow Japan to claim the right to exploit offshore resources such as rare metals in the newly recognized areas including the one stretching north from the atoll.

China and South Korea have insisted that Okinotorishima should be defined as rocks, as the U.N. convention states that rocks, "which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own" shall have no exclusive economic zone.

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