SOUTH Korea said yesterday it has extended its air defence zone to partially overlap with a similar zone declared by China two weeks ago that has sharply raised regional tensions.
Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air defence identification zone in an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan has triggered protests from the US and its close allies Japan and South Korea.
Announcing the expansion of its own zone to include two territorial islands to the south and a submerged rock also claimed by China, South Korea’s defence ministry said the move 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,” a defence ministry spokesman announced.
“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 added.
South Korea objected to China’s 23 November move as unacceptable because its new zone includes a maritime rock named Ieodo, which Seoul controls, with a research station platform built on top of it. China also claims the submerged rock.
South Korea’s reaction to Beijing has been more measured than the sharp rebukes delivered from Tokyo and Washington.
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 move will take effect on Sunday, it said.
It will also result in an overlap with Japan’s air defence zone, the spokesman said.
There was no immediate reaction from China, although Beijing’s response to news last week that South Korea was reviewing its options on the air defence zone was relatively low key.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Friday that any move by South Korea must “accord with international law and norms”.
However, he added: “China is willing to maintain communications with South Korea on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
The decision by China that kicked off the latest spat was the subject of a tense disagreement as US vice-president Joe Biden visited China last week, stressing Washington’s objections to the move that he said caused “significant apprehension” in the region.
In an implicit criticism of the way China expanded its air defence identification zone, the US praised South Korea for its having consulted its neighbours – including China and Japan – before going ahead.