A Feeble Response to China's Airspace Grab

      November 26, 2013 12:57

      China has unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone that partially overlaps with Korea's. The zone serves as a buffer area where passing aircraft need to identify themselves in case they have some kind of hostile intent.

      China's zone overlaps with a part of the Korean zone west of Jeju Island that is 20 km wide and stretches for 115 km. Beijing did not pay any attention to Korean opinion when unilaterally drawing up the boundaries. It also includes a large portion of Japan's zone, including the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands that are disputed between them.

      Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was enjoying a day off, convened an emergency meeting shortly after Beijing’s announcement and said his country cannot accept the zone, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said China’s announcement will "only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident." He urged Beijing to exercise "caution and restraint."

      U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said that the Senkaku islands fall under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and warned Beijing that Washington will not tolerate attempts to stoke tensions in the region.

      China also included the submerged shelf of Ieo Island, which falls under Korea's jurisdiction. Korea spent eight years building a maritime research station on the continental shelf and has been operating the facility since 2003. Japan included Ieo Island in its own air defense zone in 1969, but Korea has failed to bring the island into its zone since the U.S. Air Force's Pacific Command set it up in 1951.

      The government explained that it had attempted several times to include Ieo Island in the country's Air Defense Identification Zone, but Japan protested. Seoul apparently worried that any more assertive action would prompt Japan to try and incorporate the Dokdo islets into its own zone.

      This time, too, the response has been feeble. The U.S. and Japanese governments dealt with China's announcement immediately, but it took the government here two full days to respond, and then it only summoned the Chinese military attaché in Seoul to lodge a protest.

      The government says a low-key approach is the best way to deal with Ieo Island as well as Dokdo. But the reality is that the low-key diplomatic approach is simply being read as weakness and an excuse to disregard Korea's opinions and positions.

      The government must take another look at how it handles protection of Korea's sovereign territory, maritime boundaries and airspace.

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