I have read about how China is trying to claim Socotra Rock (a submerged rock 4.6 meters below sea level). However, this is not recognized by international law since the rock is 12 nautical miles from China's territory and is also claimed by South Korea, leading to tension. This tension might make sense if there was strategic value for China to own the rock, but there seems to be no obvious political or economic advantage to owning the island. South Korea only uses the rock for an ocean research station and other than the fact that the rock is tied to an ancient Korean myth, it doesn't give much benefit to South Korea. Why does China want to own this submerged rock so much?

4 Answers 4


The Chinese government has spent the last decade and more very actively pursuing the extension of their territorial waters into what is commonly accepted to be international waters, or even the territorial waters of other sovereign nations. Mostly within the South China Sea.

They do this by arbitrarily claiming islands, or by creating artificial islands when there are no islands to claim.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) then use their economic influence in the region to attempt to pressure smaller or weaker nations into recognizing their claims.

This is an issue they take very seriously. Going as far as to require the printing of the "nine-dash line" (China's unrecognized territorial claim), on all maps printed in China. Companies that operate or do business in China are actively pursued, bullied, or tricked by the CCP into using their maps (which also claim that Taiwan is part of their territory).

While there may be military and political motivations as well, at least one of the primary motivations behind these territorial claims is likely Chinese overfishing. There are huge numbers of Chinese fishing ships regularly aggressively trespassing on the territorial waters of their neighbors.

There are similar issues in the north, with Chinese fishing ships regularly intruding off the coasts of South Korea.

So the Chinese claim to a larger section of the waters between China and South Korea follows the same pattern as their claims in the South China Sea. They want more. If they did hypothetically manage to establish a claim to Socotra Rock, it might allow them to construct another artificial military island to further extend their influence.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – yannis
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 15:41
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    A book I would strongly recommend you read is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (London 2015). Before I read it I had no idea of the extent that China (one quarter of the earth's population) is effectively excluded from becoming a world power (a status which requires a world-class navy) by an inability freely to access the Pacific. The US ring of containment is highly effective - and leaves China clutching at straws. And remember China requires 25 million barrels of oil a day (from the Middle East) simply to keep life going.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 19:41

Note that the island can emerge from the water at anytime. If it does, it arguably becomes new land to claim, which would allow China to claim land in a strategic location near a neighbour.

Some thing like this occurred a while back on Graham's Island. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Island_(Mediterranean_Sea)


I agree with Tai, but I am missing something.

What I miss is the strategic component for China. China is land-locked in the South, the West and the North. In addition to this there is Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Korea which, in case of conflict, can severely limit free passing of Chinese vessels. Any island or Atol (or submerged rock in this case) that they poses will reduced the chance for China to become isolated. I think this is a very serious consideration from the Chinese government.


  • Can you explain how the possession of a submersed rock could reduce the chance for China to become isolated ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 8:07
  • 200 miles zone. Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 15:35

If you look at a maps of China and the sea territories bordering them, you will see that their access to the Pacific is almost completely walled in by nations that are allied with the US, which means that in the case of a major conflict, it will not be incredibly hard for America to cut off all shipping routes to China. I think it is understandable that the Chinese government is not too happy about this, and therefore seeks to establish some authority in the area.

It is also worth bearing in mind that we in the West have a less than spotfree history when it comes to China; and of course, when it comes to using their economic strength to put pressure on other nations, they have had excellent teachers in the US.

So, to sum it up: having a strong presence, in that area has strategic and political value; and a rock under a bit of water is still a foundation to build a structure on.

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    Tal mentions several facts without even a hint of your “evil commies”
    – WGroleau
    Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 20:47
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    If I recall correctly, the history of Chinese realpolitik is a little longer than that of the United States (if a mere single order of magnitude counts), but I'm sure their neighbors would agree with you that China always played nice until the Americans came along. Commented Feb 15, 2020 at 22:25
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    @j4nd3r53n I would strongly contest your argument that the authoritarian state-capitalist regime in Beijing is "communist". But that aside, I'm not basing my answer on US propaganda, I'm basing it on the reality of the CCP's territorial aggression. Nevermind the way they treat the non-Han peoples of the regions they already control. Your "they need space for their own peace of mind" argument just reeks of "lebensraum". That land and nearby waters already belong to the peoples that live there. Malaysia and Vietnam certainly aren't "the West".
    – Tal
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 14:22
  • @Tal You answer was clearly biased, even if you don't think so. I didn't say that China is a communist state - after all, there is no consensus on what that actually means; but you clearly express the same opinions as those, who used to talk about the "Red/Yellow Peril" - and you state your opinions as fact, with a considerable degree of smugness IMO. I clearly won't win you over, but that doesn't matter. However, I will continue to challenge what I think is less than honest criticism - I have done the same when it was the US instead of China.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 15:31

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