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South Korea

South Korea accuses Chinese military plane of entering air defence zone without permission, report says

Fighter jet scrambled to monitor unidentified flight to southwest of Ieo Island, Yonhap cites military officials as saying

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 January, 2018, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 9:04pm

South Korea accused China of flying a military aircraft into its air defence identification zone on Monday without giving prior notification.

“Our military first detected the unidentified flight in the southwest of Ieo Island,” its Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted as saying in a report by the Yonhap news agency.

The defence authority was cited as saying that the aircraft entered South Korea’s Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) about 9:30am, before moving into Japan’s air identification zone and finally flying out of the South Korean zone about 2:05pm.

It did not provide a precise timeline for the aircraft’s movements.

The report came after five Chinese military aircraft entered the KADIZ on December 18, prompting Seoul to describe the move as an infringement. China’s air force said at the time that the aircraft had been taking part in a routine operation after a long-range exercise into the Sea of Japan.

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The three air defence zones designated by China, South Korea and Japan overlap near Ieo Island.

Neither Beijing nor Tokyo has so far commented on Monday’s incident.

South Korea scrambled several air force jets, including an F-15K fighter, to conduct an emergency sortie of the Chinese aircraft, which was identified as a Y8 transporter, according to the Yonhap report.

Beijing-based military commentator Li Jie said that the incident on Monday was another example of China flexing its muscle in the region at a time of growing uncertainty.

“This is China stamping its sovereignty in the area,” Li said, although both Seoul and Beijing have denied being involved in a territorial dispute over Ieo Island.

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In late 2013, South Korea said it had expanded the KADIZ to include the islet – a submerged rock in waters off its southern coast – a month after China demarcated its air defence identification zone in the East China Sea.

Li said also that the timing of Monday’s incident was likely intended to show Seoul that less than two weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, tensions over the North Korean nuclear threat continued to simmer.

“China feels there is a lot of uncertainty regarding how South Korea is handling the nuclear problem, and also their joint military operations with the US after the Olympics,” he said. “[It] wants to show that it is highly concerned about these issues.”

A repeat of Monday’s incident would not be a surprise, Li said.

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Air defence identification zones are early warning systems that help countries to detect incursions into their airspace. Any aircraft entering such an area is supposed to report its route and purpose to the “host” nation. However, the zones are classified as international airspace and pilots are not legally bound to make such a notification.