Limit tensions over airspace

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Limit tensions over airspace

The government declared our new air defense identification zone yesterday in response to China’s Nov. 23 unilateral proclamation of an air defense zone in the East China Sea, which overlaps part of Korea’s sea territory. The government’s step is seen as a natural decision to safeguard our sovereignty and national interests.

The administration drew the new line without touching our western and eastern air zones, while making it compatible with the Incheon Flight Information Region, an internationally accepted air zone that doesn’t overlap other countries’ airspace. As a result, Korea’s air zone is extended 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) to the south, which covers the airspace over our Mara Island, Hong Island and Ieodo, a submerged reef that is part of a territorial dispute with China.

The government’s explanation sounds convincing. The new air zone complies with international aviation standards because foreign civilian flights, which must observe our air information region, suffer no further constraints, and the new zone doesn’t infringe on our neighbors’ interests. At the same time, the new air zone is meaningful as it includes the three small islands, which have long been excluded from our air defense zone even as we exercise sovereignty over them.

China didn’t inform Korea or Japan of its decision to expand an air defense zone to the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, Islands that are the subject of an intense territorial dispute with Japan. Just because there is no established international rule on proclaiming of air defense identification zones aimed at protecting airspace from intrusion by foreign military aircraft, doesn’t mean one can draw the line at one’s discretion. In that sense, our government took a right step as it fully notified China and Japan, and consulted with the United States.

After our government’s decision, the airspace over the Ieodo has become a hot spot where the air defense identification zones of Korea, China and Japan overlap. The parties involved need to reinforce crisis management systems so as to avert an accidental clash from a mistake or miscalculation.

Our previous air defense zone was drawn by America during the Korean War to prevent Chinese military planes from advancing further to the south, but it didn’t reflect the extension of the baseline of territorial seas and Japan’s declaration of air defense zone. Beijing and Tokyo must not raise tensions by enlarging their air zones. Given the regional tension stemming from Sino-Japanese conflicts and the Sino-U.S. rivalry, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo must restore communication channels as soon as possible.
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