South Korea ups air-zone ante in Asia's contested waters (+video)
South Korea has expanded its air defense zone. On a visit to the region, Vice President Joe Biden criticized China's recent declaration of its airspace zone.
Seoul, South Korea
In another sign of rising tensions in Asian waters, South Korea declared a larger â€śair defense identification zoneâ€ť (ADIZ)Â on Sunday, challenging Chinaâ€™s claim to a submerged rocky shoal that Korea controls and which lies southwest of the Korean Peninsula.
South Koreaâ€™s expansion of its existing zone appeared to be a direct dividend of Vice President Joe Bidenâ€™s two-day visit that endedÂ Saturday during which he discussed the topic with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The decision raised the stakes in a confrontation that began two weeks ago when ChinaÂ declared an expanded ADIZ over contested waters that include a cluster of Japanese-run islands also claimed by China. Â Â Â Â Â Â
Mr. Biden, who visited Beijing before arriving in Seoul, was unable to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to back down from Chinaâ€™s demand that civilian and military aircraft flying through Chinaâ€™s new zone identify themselves in advance. The concern is that China, Japan and South Korea haveÂ all put down overlapping air-zone markers on their respective maps, ratcheting up the risk of escalation into an armed clash in the region.
Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation in Washington, describes the South Korean decision as â€śnot helpful.â€ť South Korea,Â he says,Â â€śis doing exactly what the Chinese didâ€ť by using an ADIZ to assert its position in a power struggle.
â€śThe ADIZ were never supposed to be based on territory,â€ť says Mr. Flake, a veteran analyst of Korean affairs. â€śThey were relatively benign safety things. They did not have territorial significance.â€ť
That definition changed, though, with Chinaâ€™s Nov. 23 assertion of an ADIZ that Japan and South Korea say is illegal.Â Biden bluntly criticized the zone on his visit, which had been planned in advance of Chinaâ€™s declaration.
â€śWe do not recognize such a zone,â€ť Biden told an audience at Yonsei University in Seoul. He raised the fear of a regional war if China pursued an aggressive policy in waters around its periphery from the East Sea to the South China Sea, which it claims as its own. â€śThe possibility of miscalculation, of a mistake, is real,â€ť he said. There should be â€śno intimidation, no coercion,â€ť he added, but rather â€śa commitment to reduce the danger of miscalculation.â€ť
Korean officials have tried to play down their countermove. Jang Hyuk, a defense ministry policy official, said in a televised briefing that the decision would â€śnot significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.â€ť He insisted other countries â€śare in agreement that this move complies with international regulationsâ€ť but did not say if China held that view.Â
South Koreaâ€™s calculations involve an obscure rocky shoalÂ known as Ieodo to the Koreans and Suyan Rock to the Chinese. Located 93 miles southwest of Jeju Island, and 171 miles east of Chinaâ€™s coast, the rocks are submerged except during severe storms. South Korea has built a helicopter port on the largest of the rocks, which China also claims as its own territory and made sure to place within Chinaâ€™s new ADIZ. Â