Not very neighborly

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Not very neighborly

The intrusion of Chinese military aircraft into Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) raises deep concerns. All types of military exchanges previously agreed to by Beijing have been cancelled since our government’s decision in July to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system, not to mention the cancelling of our defense minister Han Min-koo’s visit to China. We wonder if both countries really still have a so-called strategic partnership.

On Monday, China flew a strategic bomber capable of carrying nuclear weapons and other military aircraft over sensitive airspace from Korea’s southernmost Ieodo Islet to the East Sea. As an ADIZ is designated for early identification of friend or foe, a country does not have jurisdiction over the space. But if unidentified military aircraft enter the space, a country’s fighter jets immediately take off as our Air Force fighters did on Monday. Asked why they violated the zone, Chinese pilots simply replied that they were on a drill.

China’s violation of the space is not new. But it is very rare for its planes to infiltrate our ADIZ for up to five hours without prior notification. Some analysts interpret it as a warning to Japan over its territorial disputes because the fleet violated Japan’s ADIZ as well. Others see it as a show of force against the United States for its dispatching of a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet into the East China Sea ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump next week.

However, we can hardly rule out the possibility of China retaliating for our Thaad deployment considering its planes’ unprecedented crisscrossing of our ADIZ for five hours, including a one-hour flight directly over the space. China is most likely sending another message to Korea, following Beijing’s restrictions on Chinese tourists’ travel to Korea and other economic retaliations.

But such a show of force can lead to a rise in anti-China sentiment among the Korean people. They don’t think Beijing should vent its anger on Seoul to react to Washington’s increasingly aggressive East Asia policy. Korea is already under pressure from China on economic, social and cultural fronts over the past six months. Chinese officials recently discussed the Thaad issue with our opposition lawmakers in Beijing. If Beijing attempts to add military pressure to that, it could help fix China’s image as a hegemonic state in the region.

China’s latest move makes us wonder if both sides have reached as far as we believed 25 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations. China traditionally cherishes the idea of getting along with neighbors for a better future. We urge Beijing to act more prudently.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 11, Page 30
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