South Korea scrambles jets to intercept Chinese warplane in its air defence territory

Fighters sent to track Chinese military aircraft flying over disputed territory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 2:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 10:50pm

South Korea summoned a Chinese embassy official to lodge a complaint over a Chinese military aircraft flying in the South’s air defence territory on Friday.

South Korea scrambled fighter jets to intercept a Chinese plane when it entered the Korean air defence identification zone (ADIZ), the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

The Chinese aircraft spent more than four hours in the ADIZ after flying near a submerged rock in the area controlled by Seoul but claimed by Beijing, the statement said.

South Korea’s air dorce sent F-15K fighter jets to track and warn the Chinese aircraft to leave, it said.

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South Korea’s defence ministry said it called in Du Nongyi, a military attaché at the Chinese embassy in Seoul, and “sternly” urged China to take steps to prevent the incident from recurring.

“Our government expressed our regret and we’re taking this extremely seriously,” the ministry said in a statement.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the issue and referred questions to China’s defence ministry, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Observers said the move was in line with the Chinese air force’s push to send its fighter jets farther afield, and might have helped Beijing gather military intelligence on South Korea.

In 2013, Seoul extended its ADIZ in 2013 to partially overlap with a zone newly declared by China.

China’s expansion included the submerged rock named Ieodo and known in China as Suyan. Seoul controls the rock and has built a research station platform on top of it.

However, ADIZs are not covered by international treaties.

South Korean media reported that the Chinese plane that went into the Korean zone was thought to be a Y-9, a mid-sized, medium-range transport aircraft, which went into service after completing its first long-distance exercise over the South China Sea in December.

Military analysts said the patrol was a routine exercise to boost the Chinese air force’s long-range combat strength.

“The Chinese air force has been stepping up its long-distance flights for years and this fits into its goal of projecting power further,” Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said.

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Leung Kwok-leung, also a Hong Kong-based military observer, said the plane might have been gathering information on South Korea’s defences, including the US-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system in the country’s south.

“South Korea has close military relations with the United States, and China has to know more about its movements, especially in relation to THAAD,” Leung said.

THAAD was deployed in South Korea to counter a strike from the North but has been a source of great tension with China, which deems the system a national security threat for its capacity to track Chinese missiles. The US Department of Defence announced late last month that it would go ahead with improvements to THAAD.

Chinese warplanes made a similar flight over the South Korean zone in February and April while at least two similar instances were observed last year, the joint chiefs said.

In February, Seoul summoned the Chinese ambassador to lodge a complaint, and Beijing said then the aircraft was conducting a training flight in line with international law and practice.