China provided the United Nations with detailed claims to waters in the East China Sea on Friday, apparently padding out its legal argument in an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan.
The Foreign Ministry said it submitted documents claiming waters extending beyond its 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) exclusive economic zone. It said geological features dictated that China's claim extended to the edge of the continental shelf off the Chinese coast, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Japan's Okinawa island.
A statement posted to the Foreign Ministry's website gave no specifics, but China had pledged to make such a submission shortly after its dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea flared again in September. Japan angered China by buying the islands from their private Japanese owners to block a rival bid by Tokyo's nationalist mayor, a move Japan had hoped would prevent a bigger crisis.
Violent anti-Japanese protests then broke out across China to assert what many Chinese believe is their country's ages-old claim on the rocky outcrops, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan also claims them.
China's move is a way for it to underscore its claim, but will have little real impact. The U.N. commission to which it submitted its claim, which comprises geological experts, evaluates the markers on technical grounds but has no authority to resolve overlapping claims.
The U.N. submission represents one aspect of China's approach to the dispute. Another involves dispatching vessels to patrol in the area and confront Japanese Coast Guard ships.
On Thursday, China for the first time dispatched a plane over the islands, prompting Tokyo to accuse it of violating Japanese air space. Japan's Defense Agency said four Japanese F-15 jets headed to the area in response, but the nonmilitary Chinese plane was nowhere to be seen by the time they got there. The Foreign Ministry said a formal protest was sent to the Chinese government through its embassy in Japan.
The islands lie in a strategic location between Japan and Taiwan, and the surrounding waters hold rich fish stocks and a potential wealth of oil, gas and other minerals.
The area China claims overlaps with Japan's exclusive economic zone and includes undersea natural gas deposits that China at one time had pledged to tap jointly with Japan. Such joint measures have since been shelved by Beijing.