South Korea to Expand Its Air Defense Identification Zone

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South Korea is finalizing plans to expand its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in response to China establishing the East China Sea ADIZ, local newspapers are reporting.

According to a number of local reports, ROK National Security Office chief Kim Jang-soo convened a meeting of top South Korean security officials on Sunday to discuss the new ADIZ.

The Korean Herald reported that the ADIZ is rumored to include 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.”

Yonhap News Agency quoted an unnamed local official as saying “(The new KADIZ) has been conceptually finalized. The government will announce the plan after carefully reviewing the military operation and aviation safety as well as the international regulations.”

Those consultations were initially scheduled to wrap up as early as Tuesday, however, Seoul has reportedly decided to delay the meetings in light of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to the region this week. The meetings now may not take place until next week.

South Korea’s current ADIZ was established by the U.S. Air Force in 1951. Following China’s announcement that it is creating an East China Sea ADIZ, which overlapped with the KADIZ, many in South Korea were surprised to learn that the KADIZ didn’t cover some of Seoul’s more remotely claimed islands and submerged reefs.

Expanding the ADIZ is likely to increase tensions with China. Although the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prohibits countries from claiming submerged reefs like Ieodo (China calls it Suyan Rock), both China and South Korea claim the rock, which falls within both of their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

In a Global Times article last month, Zhao Jianming, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said that compared with other territorial disputes in the East China Sea, “the issue of Suyan Rock, disputed between China and South Korea, is relatively uncovered, but still not unimportant.”

However, the two countries have often been at odds over the submerged rock, particularly when South Korea built the Ieodo Ocean Research Station and a helicopter pad on Ieodo. Zhao said in this article that China’s maritime agencies regularly patrol the waters around the rock. The East China Sea ADIZ also included Ieodo.

At bilateral defense talks last week, China assured South Korea that the new ADIZ was aimed at Tokyo not Seoul. Still, Beijing rejected Seoul’s demand that it redraw the new ADIZ to ensure that it does not encroach on any territory claimed by South Korea. In response, South Korea first suggested that it might expand its own ADIZ to cover its southernmost possessions.

Like Japan and the United States, South Korea has refused to recognize China’s ADIZ and continues to patrol the waters and skies above Ieodo as usual. The Seoul government has also told its national airlines not to identify their planes to China as Beijing demanded all airplanes do when flying in the ADIZ.

South Korea has also been in close consultation with the United States since China first announced the ADIZ. Evan Medeiros, the senior director of Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) met with security officials in Seoul last Wednesday to discuss the ADIZ. As noted above, Vice President Joe Biden will also be in South Korea this week, where conversations are likely to center on China’s new ADIZ. Meanwhile, Kang Chang-hee, speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea (ROK), is expected to visit China later this week.

Medeiros and Biden are also visiting Japan during their trips.

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