Seoul expands air identification zone
But experts say there is little risk of conflict with Beijing
Seoul decided on Sunday to expand its air defense identification zone for the first time in 62 years, encompassing Suyan Rock.
The rock is a submerged reef in the waters where the exclusive economic zones of China and South Korea overlap. But the two countries agreed that the rock does not have territorial status and the two countries have no territorial disputes.
The move came after China announced its first air defense identification zone on Nov 23, which covers the Diaoyu Islands.
Seoul’s decision shows it does not want to lag behind in defending itself, said Fu Xiaodong, a Chinese military expert.
But Beijing and Seoul know that neither China’s announcement nor South Korea’s expansion is an offensive measure, said Yin Zhuo, a senior naval expert.
“The two countries can sit down to resolve possible differences on the issue. The possibility of major conflict between Beijing and Seoul is low,” he said.
South Korea Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that expansion of the zone came “after considering the specialty of air military operations, the flight information region under aviation law and international practices”.
South Korea’s ADIZ was drawn in 1951 by the United States air force during the Korean War (1950-53).
Kim said the expanded zone, which takes effect on Dec 15, will not restrict flights by international civilian airliners, nor violate territorial air or the interests of neighboring countries.
According to the spokesman, the South Korean government had provided sufficient explanations about the expansion to neighboring countries through defense and diplomacy channels ahead of the announcement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Friday that the zone has nothing to do with administrative rights over sea and airspace, adding that China is ready to maintain communication with South Korea on the principle of equality and mutual respect.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Sunday that South Korea conferred with the United States in advance of its decision, Agence France- Presse reported.
Washington “will remain in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region to ensure their actions contribute to greater stability, predictability and consistency with international practices”, Psaki said.
Seoul and Washington discussed the issue, including in the meeting between US Vice-President Joe Biden and President Park Geun- hye in Seoul on Friday.
Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean official as saying: “I don’t think the relations between South Korea and China will deteriorate seriously because of this.”
Seoul’s enlarged air defense identifi cation zone overlaps with those of China and Japan.
There are concerns that the overlapping of the zones may worsen the regional situation, given that territorial disputes between China and Japan rose after Tokyo’s illegal purchase of China’s Diaoyu Islands last year.
“The overlapping of the air defense identification zones can be a cause of disputes,” said Li Jie, a senior expert at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute of the People’s Liberation Army.
“But the risk will be under control if all parties coordinate well with each other,” he said.
Spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense Kim Minseok speaks during a news briefing in Seoul to announce a new air defense identification zone on Sunday.