China’s mistake over air spaceThe Sino-Japanese conflict over the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, Islands in the South China Sea has generated unexpected trouble for South Korea. The Chinese government’s decision to expand its air defense identification zone amid the simmering brawl has ended up intruding into the southernmost boundary of our air zone, which covers Ieodo, Korean territory whose control is disputed by China. After China’s announcement, some Koreans are calling for an expansion of our air zone to include the air space over the islet, while others blame the government for having excluded that air space in our air zone, even though Japan had already included the space in its defense zone.
It is dangerous for China to include the sensitive air space over Ieodo in its newly announced air zone. Our government has already expressed discontent over Beijing’s one-sided decision and called for a readjustment of the air zone. But we are not so sure if China will accept our government’s demand. If Beijing rejects it, however, the government should not cooperate with China in its operations over the air space in question. For instance, our military aircraft patrolling the space twice a week don’t have to notify China about their entry into the air zone. If China continues to infiltrate into our own zone, then we can consider taking special measures like an expansion of our air defense zone.
Despite our government’s persistent demands that Japan exclude the air space over the islet, Tokyo has dismissed them. However, our government has never considered an extension of our air zone to the air space over the islet, primarily because our Navy and Air Force have no trouble conducting military drills around and over the islet and the concept of a territorial right to an air zone has not been fully established. The government might have determined it was more prudent not to escalate it into a subject of dispute. The conventional rule among the international community to respect our air zone, drawn by the UN commander in 1951, and Japan’s air zone, created by Tokyo in 1969, may also have played a part in our government’s inaction.
The move by China has raised tensions between Beijing and Tokyo. It is not desirable for our government to tumble into a Sino-Japanese dispute. Therefore, the government does not have to hurry an expansion of our air defense zone to the air space over the islet. If it does, there is a likelihood that fighter jets from Korea, China and Japan could encounter each other and escalate into a clash.
At the same time, we must not sacrifice our maritime and air space rights. The government must approach the issue actively and prudently.