SEOUL: South Korea said Sunday it had extended its air defense zone to partially overlap with a similar area declared by China two weeks ago that has sharply raised regional tensions.
Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in an area that includes islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan has triggered protests from the U.S. and its close allies Japan and South Korea.
Announcing the expansion of its own zone to include two territorial islands to the south and a submerged rock also claimed by China, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the move would not infringe on neighboring countries’ sovereignty.
“We believe this will not significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia,” Defense Ministry head of policy Jang Hyuk told a briefing.
“We have explained our position to related countries, and overall they are in agreement that this move complies with international regulations and is not an excessive measure,” he said.
South Korea objected to China’s Nov. 23 move as unacceptable because its new zone included a maritime rock named Ieodo, which Seoul controls, with a research station platform built atop it. China also claims the submerged rock.
Still, South Korea’s reaction to Beijing has been more measured than the rebukes delivered from Tokyo and Washington, reflecting a sensitivity toward Seoul’s largest trading partner.
There was no immediate reaction from China, although Beijing’s response to news last week that South Korea was reviewing its options on the air defense zone was relatively low key.
In an implicit criticism of the way China expanded its air defense identification zone, the United States praised South Korea for its having consulted its neighbors – including China and Japan – before going ahead.