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Seoul considers southward expansion of air defense zone

Korea’s top security officials discussed expanding its air defense zone on Sunday amid international disputes kindled by China’s new airspace policy, the presidential office said.

National Security Office chief Kim Jang-soo convened the top security policy meeting after President Park Geun-hye recently directed her security staff to explore ways to protect national interests including the expansion of the country’s air zone.

Beijing on Thursday rejected Seoul’s demand that it adjust its newly drawn Air Defense Identification Zone, which overlaps with those of South Korea and China.

Related ministers discussed the airspace issue and the dispatching of troops in aid to the Philippines at the top security policy coordination meeting, senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun told reporters.

The Seoul government is said to be considering areas including the country’s southernmost island of Marado; Hongdo Island, an uninhabited island south of Geojedo Island; and Ieodo, a submerged rock within the overlapping exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China.

Set up in 1951 by the U.S. Air Force to block communist forces, South Korea’s ADIZ does not cover the country’s airspace over some of remote spots.

The outcome of the top security meeting, which was withheld from the media, is expected to be finalized after policy coordination with the ruling Saenuri Party on Tuesday, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that civilian aircraft flying China’s new air defense zone should not submit its flight plans to China, as Seoul does not recognize the unilateral zone.

South Korea also plans to hold strategic talks with the United States, China and Japan within the next month to cope with rising security challenges facing Northeast Asia, government sources said Sunday.

The military will also finalize a plan later this month calling for the building of three more Aegis destroyers that can better cope with threats from North Korea and other regional security developments, another source said.

A military insider, who wished to remain anonymous, said the plan is expected to be finalized at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Dec. 22. The meeting will be chaired by JCS Chairman Choi Yun-hee.

South Korea already has three Aegis ships belonging to its King Sejong the Great class, which are 165 meters long from stem to stern and have a full war load displacement of over 9,000 tons.

These ships, equipped with the latest phased array radar and other sensors, can deal with all kinds of air, surface and submerged threats, and permit the country to project its power far beyond South Korean waters.

By Song Sang-ho and news reports