Is China Overreacting to Passenger-Plane Incident?

      June 22, 2011 13:10

      Kim Jin-myung

      China called on the Korean government on Tuesday to ensure the safety of civilian aircraft flying over its airspace after Korean Marines mistakenly fired on a passenger plane coming in to land in Seoul after a flight from China.

      "[We] hope that the South Korean side takes effective steps to prevent such an incident from happening again and ensure the safety of civilian aircraft and their passengers flying over South Korean airspace," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "We have taken note of the relevant report and expressed our concern to the South Korean side through diplomatic channels."

      China's stance, as conveyed through diplomatic channels, appears to be more than just an expression of concern. Over the last several days, Chinese media, led by the state-run Global Times, have been reporting that Korea's image has been "tarnished" by the incident.

      It would be difficult for the government to condone the military for having fired at a civilian aircraft after mistakenly perceiving it as an enemy fighter jet. And it is only natural for foreign media to report the incident and analyze the causes.

      But among some 200 nations around the world, only China has taken issue with the safety of passenger planes flying over Korean air space, and this appears to have been prompted by more than just a sense of concern by a neighboring country.

      Korea is the biggest importer of Chinese food products amid persistent concerns over the safety of such goods following a number of incidents. Most recently, the safety of cucumbers grown in China grabbed headlines following reports that they were being coated with birth-control drugs in order to maintain their freshness. Consumers who continue to eat the cucumbers face the risk of being rendered sterile.

      In fact, various issues such as environmental pollution from China, and the manufacturing and sale of bogus brands by Chinese factories, have a direct impact on the safety of Korean citizens. How would Beijing have reacted if the Korean government took issue with such problems through diplomatic channels each time they cropped up?

      The passenger plane was 13 km away from the marines when they fired at it. Considering that the maximum range of the K-2 assault rifle is 500-600 m, there was never any risk of the bullets hitting their target, or harming the passengers.

      Beijing ostensibly took up the issue because of the significant number of Chinese nationals who sat on the aircraft, but it is unclear what Beijing's true intentions were by openly voicing concerns over the safety of passenger planes flying over its regional neighbor.

      By Kim Jin-myung from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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