China on Thursday rejected South Korea’s demand to adjust its recent demarcation of an air defense zone in the East China Sea, which has raised tension by covering an area over Korea’s southwestern submerged rock of Ieodo.
Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo made the demand during his talks in Seoul with Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Wang came here to attend the regular bilateral strategic defense dialogue, where China’s unilateral drawing of its Air Defense Identification Zone, which overlaps with those of South Korea and Japan, topped the agenda.
“We expressed deep regrets over the demarcating of the zone without prior consultations and reaffirmed that our jurisdictional right to the waters surrounding Ieodo would not be affected by neighboring states’ air defense zones,” Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
“We demanded adjustment of the zone and said that we are considering expanding our own zone to protect our national interests. We also said there is a need for consultations with regional countries to promote mutual trust and defuse tension.”
Last Saturday, Beijing declared the expansion of the zone. Seoul and Tokyo criticized China for setting it up without consulting them and have refused to recognize the zone.
China’s ADIZ covers contentious areas in the East China Sea, including those over Ieodo, a submerged rock in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China, and a chain of disputed islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Not bound by international law, the ADIZ is set up outside a country’s territorial airspace to discern between civilian and military aircraft for purposes of national security. Any foreign aircraft can enter the zone with prior notification or face interception.
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Korea would weigh “all possible options” to maximize national interests with regard to the protection of Ieodo.
The government is mulling whether to expand its air defense zone to incorporate Ieodo. Its zone, first set up in 1951 during the Korean War, does not include the rock, although it has effectively controlled it with a scientific research center established in 2003.
In a display of its firm stance not to recognize Beijing’s demarcation, Seoul flew naval aircraft, including the P3-C maritime surveillance plane, through China’s air zone without any notice.
To a reporter’s question over the South Korean military flight, Qin Gang, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in a regular briefing, “In accordance with the announcement of ADIZ rules for the East China Sea, China will identify any aircraft within the ADIZ.”
China’s controversial demarcation also triggered an angry response from Washington. Expressing concerns that China could destabilize the status quo in the region, the U.S. flew two B-52 strategic bombers over the zone on Tuesday in an apparent show of force against the increasingly assertive China.
Apart from the air zone, North Korea’s nuclear problem was also on the agenda for the strategic defense dialogue.
Baek expressed gratitude for Beijing’s stance against Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons and its additional atomic tests, which could undermine regional security. He also called for joint efforts to denuclearize the North and deter provocations by the unpredictable regime in Pyongyang.
Also on the agenda was the task of setting up a hotline between the defense ministries of the two countries. The two sides agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding at an early date to open the hotline to strengthen bilateral communication and trust.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)