Seoul ex­pands air iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone

But ex­perts say there is lit­tle risk of con­flict with Bei­jing

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHOU WA zhouwa@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

YONHANP VIA AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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.

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