South Korea yesterday said that it has extended its air defense zone to partially overlap with a similar zone declared by China two weeks ago that has sharply raised regional tensions.
Beijing’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Taiwan and Japan has triggered protests from the US, as well as close allies Japan and South Korea.
Announcing the expansion of its own zone to include two territorial islands to the south and a submerged rock also claimed by China, the South Korean Ministry of Defense said the move would not infringe on neighboring countries’ sovereignty.
“We believe this will not significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia,” the ministry’s head of policy, Jang Hyuk, told a briefing.
“We have explained our position to related countries and overall they are in agreement that this move complies with international regulations and is not an excessive measure,” he said, adding that the ministry’s top priority was to work with neighboring countries to prevent military confrontation.
South Korea objected to China’s Nov. 23 move as unacceptable because its new zone includes a maritime rock named Ieodo, which Seoul controls and has a research station platform built atop it.
China also claims the submerged rock.
However, Seoul’ reaction to Beijing has been more measured than the sharp rebukes delivered by Tokyo and Washington, reflecting a sensitivity toward South Korea’s largest trading partner.
South Korea’s air defense zone was originally established by the US Air Force in 1951 during the Korean War.
Its extension will not apply any restrictions to the operation of commercial flights, the ministry said separately in a statement. The move will take effect on Sunday, it said.
It will also result in an overlap with Japan’s air defense zone, Jang said.
There was no immediate reaction from China, although Beijing’s response to news last week that South Korea was reviewing its options on the ADIZ was relatively low-key.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) on Friday said any move by South Korea must “accord with international law and norms.”
However, Hong added: “China is willing to maintain communications with South Korea on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
The decision by China that kicked off the latest spat was the subject of a tense disagreement, as US Vice President Joe Biden visited China, stressing Washington’s objections to the move that he said caused “significant apprehension” in the region.
Beijing says its zone is in accordance with international law and Washington and others should respect it.
Under the Chinese zone’s rules, all aircraft have to report flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries.
US, Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have breached the zone without informing Beijing since it was announced.
South Korean and Japanese commercial planes have also been advised by their governments not to follow the rules.