Korea Delays Decision on Air Defense Zone

The government has postponed a decision to expand its Air Defense Identification Zone until after a visit to Korea by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week.

Seoul had originally wanted to announce the new boundaries unilaterally following a similar move from China but now feels that some discussion with the U.S. and regional neighbors is needed.

A key Saenuri Party official said Monday, "A meeting scheduled for Tuesday between party and government officials about the air defense identification zone has been postponed at the government's request."

A government official said the expansion of the zone requires further fine-tuning.

The government has apparently concluded that announcing the expanded zone before Biden's visits to Japan, China and Korea would be strategically unwise.

A government official said, "It will not be too late to make a decision once we see what cards Biden will present during talks with Japan and China."

The government is already explaining the plan in closed-door meetings with China, Japan and the U.S. and is having a tough time convincing them.

China last week unilaterally declared a new zone where overflying aircraft need to identify themselves to Beijing, which includes part of Korean-controlled waters south of Jeju and around the submerged reef of Ieo.

Japan's zone also includes Ieo but Korea's so far does not.

The top priority is to convince Washington, but the U.S. apparently wants to maintain the current status. A Foreign Ministry official said "close discussions" are taking place with the U.S.

The government is set to start official talks with Japan soon, but Tokyo is also against Korea's move to expand its defense zone from the 1969 boundaries.

A government official said expanding the zone would "change the existing order that centers around the U.S.," while China and Japan could react sensitively to the issue. The official said the issue is "extremely complicated" as the interests of China, Japan, Korea and the U.S. are intertwined.

There are no international treaties governing air defense identification zones, meaning countries can in principle declare them at whim. In Asia, the zones of several countries already overlap far outside their territorial waters.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 03, 2013 11:46 KST