South Korea expands air defence zone to overlap China's
Expansion of South Korean ADIZ leaves all three major East Asian powers with air defence zones overlapping each other's as tensions rise
South Korea yesterday declared an expansion of its air defence identification zone, partially overlapping a similar zone created by China two weeks ago, as regional tensions continue to rise over territorial disputes.
Seoul's defence ministry said yesterday that its new zone, which will take effect on December 15, would cover Ieodo - a submerged rock in waters off its south coast, which China calls Suyan. It will also overlap Japan's air defence zone. The airspace above the Seoul-controlled rock is also covered by Beijing's zone.
China last month unilaterally announced an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea. The zone, which also covers islets at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan, has drawn protests from Tokyo, Seoul and their key ally, the United States.
The US State Department said yesterday that South Korea "conferred with the US" ahead of the move. South Korea's defence ministry said its zone extension would not infringe on neighbouring countries' sovereignty.
"We believe this will not significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and co-operation in Northeast Asia," defence ministry head of policy Jang Hyuk told a briefing.
Seoul had notified its neighbours in advance about its extended air zone - the first revision in its air defence area in 62 years, Jang said. The extension would not apply any restrictions to the operation of commercial flights, the defence ministry said.
Zhou Yongsheng , professor at the International Relations Research Institute of China Foreign Affairs University, said Seoul's move was "a direct response" to Beijing's zone declaration on November 23.
"Now, all three major East Asian powers - China, Japan and South Korea - have an ADIZ overlapping each other's," Zhou said. "If they share common understanding, the zone is just a zone; but if they fail to understand each other's intention, it could become a trigger to conflict."
Zhu Feng, professor of international relations at Peking University, said Seoul's announcement was an attempt to bolster its territorial claims over the disputed maritime rock. "It also signalled an escalation of territorial disputes in the Northeast Asian region," he said.
There was no immediate reaction from Beijing, although China's response to news last week that South Korea was reviewing its options on the air defence zone was relatively low key.
"Beijing won't make a big fuss out of it with Seoul," Zhou said.
Beijing's zone announcement that kicked off the diplomatic spat was the subject of a tense disagreement as US Vice-President Joe Biden visited East Asia last week, stressing Washington's objections to the move that he said caused "significant apprehension" in the region.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters