South Korea extends air defence zone after Chinese move

Regional tensions continued to rise over rival maritime claims

During his visit to the region last week, US vice president Joe Biden expressed support for allies South Korea and Japan in their defiance of China’s air defence zone. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/Reuters

During his visit to the region last week, US vice president Joe Biden expressed support for allies South Korea and Japan in their defiance of China’s air defence zone. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/Reuters

Mon, Dec 9, 2013, 01:00


South Korea has extended its own air defence identification zone to overlap with a similar area declared by China two weeks ago, as regional tensions continued to rise over rival maritime claims.

Beijing said late last month that all aircraft entering vast swathes of the East China Sea must identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions. The US, Japan and South Korea have flown military reconnaissance flights in the area without notifying China in defiance of the announcement.

South Korea has extended its zone to include a submerged reef that is South Korean-controlled but also claimed by China, and it enlarges parts of airspace that is also covered by the Chinese zone.

As well as overlapping with China’s defence zone, the new South Korean zone also includes parts of the Japanese air defence area.

Seoul had previously asked China to redraw its air defence zone because it partly overlaps with South Korea’s but this was rejected by Beijing.

Announcing the extension of the zone yesterday, South Korea’s defence ministry said the move would not infringe on the sovereignty of neighbouring countries. “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.

“We have explained our position to related countries and overall they are in agreement that this move complies with international regulations and is not an excessive measure,” he said.


Biden visit
During his visit to the region last week, US vice president Joe Biden expressed support for allies South Korea and Japan in their defiance of China’s air defence zone.

South Korea’s air defence zone was originally established by the US Air Force in 1951 during the Korean War. The extension of the zone will not apply any restrictions to the operation of commercial flights, the defence ministry said.

South Korea had objected to China’s announcement last week because the air defence zone includes a maritime rock named Ieodo, which Seoul controls, with a research station platform built atop it. China also claims the submerged rock.

There was no immediate response from China, but on Friday, when Seoul’s announcement was first flagged, the foreign ministry said it was in communication with South Korea about the expanded zone. “We are ready to maintain communication with the ROK [Republic of Korea] side under the condition of equality and mutual respect,” spokesman Hong Lei said, adding that South Korea’s move should be in line with its national laws and international norms.