South Korea is finding itself caught in the crossfire amid growing Sino-Japanese tensions after Beijing’s declaration of a new air defence zone (ADIZ) that overlaps with those of Japan and Korea.
Local media reported that although China’s air defence zone was aimed at Japan, it turned Korea into a "piggy in the middle" as Beijing tries to expand its defence zone to the east and Tokyo to the west.
“Korea has become sandwiched [between Beijing and Tokyo] as China and Japan flex their muscles,” said a report in the conservative Seoul-based newspaper JoongAng Ilbo.
On Thursday, South Korea’s foreign minister Yun Byung-se said the issue of China and Japan’s ADIZ had emerged as a situation that further intensified tensions in Northeast Asia.
China’s air defence zone overlaps with some 3,000 square kilometres of South Korea’s and Seoul has told Beijing that it cannot accept what it sees as Beijing’s unilateral decision.
The inclusion of a disputed rock, known as Ieodo, that is controlled by Seoul but also claimed by Beijing as Suyan Rock, in China’s zone has also caused an outcry in South Korea.
Korea’s defence ministry announced that it would consider adding Ieodo into its own defence zone, which is not sovereign airspace but serves as a buffer for the military to respond to potentially hostile aircraft.
“We are thinking about the best way to maximise our national interests,” said Korean defence minister Kim Kwan-jin during a parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, South Korea’s foreign ministry announced that China’s declaration would have “no effect” on Seoul’s administration of Ieodo.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the two countries, as “friendly, neighbouring countries, can solve the issue through dialogue and communication, and keep peace and security.”
South Korea’s vice defence minister Baek Seung-joo and the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army, Wang Guanzhong, will likely discuss the zoning overlap at bilateral defence strategy talks taking place in Seoul on Thursday, reported Yonhap News.