China’s maritime intrusions
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Protecting the territory is a crucial responsibility of a state. It is as important as protecting the lives of the people. And yet, our territorial air and waters were violated quietly in a series of events. On Jan. 27, a disturbing incident was made public. At the end of last year, a Chinese military vessel entered the Korean territorial waters, sailed 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) after crossing the maritime border, and reached the sea only 40 kilometers away from the Baekryeong Island in the Yellow Sea. In a phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 26, however, President Moon Jae-in told Xi that “China’s status and influence in the international community are growing strong day by day.”
It is not the first time that China violated the maritime border, but it’s getting worse. From 2016 to 2017, Chinese military vessels entered the Korean territorial waters 110 times. The number grew to 230 in 2018 and 290 in 2019. As of August last year, China made 170 violations of the maritime border.
Chinese military aircraft are no exception. Over the past 3 years, China entered the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (Kadiz) over 60 times.
Territorial ambitions are behind the move. The Oriental Outlook Weekly, a magazine published by the Xinhua News Agency, reported about such ambitions in 2014. “If China respects South Korea’s argument and divides the Yellow Sea of 350,000 square kilometers based on the principle of equidistance, 180,000 square kilometers of the waters will belong to the two Koreas, and a territorial dispute is destined to arise,” said the weekly. “To prevent this, China must have the territorial right over 250,000 square kilometers of the waters.”
It represents China’s intention to control 71 percent of the Yellow Sea. And yet, Beijing went further and claimed that “population and size of economy must be considered before drawing a maritime border.”
China’s territorial campaign in the Yellow Sea started after Xi declared in 2012 an ambition to become a maritime superpower. After he made a push to accelerate the project in 2017, China increasingly violated our waters. After the China-U.S. conflict, more violations were committed in the Yellow Sea in a show of force to warn that South Korea must not join the U.S.-led alliance to contain China.
China also commits similar territorial violations near Taiwan. On Jan. 24, 15 Chinese military aircrafts entered Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone. China committed more than 380 violations last year. Chinese military vessels also violated the maritime border of Taiwan in countless times.
However, Taiwan’s reaction is clearly different from Korea’s. While Korea did not raise the issue, Taiwan has challenged it seriously. Whenever a large-scale territorial violation is reported, the military, Foreign Ministry or the office of the president issues a statement to condemn China. Taiwan’s ambassador to the United States deplored China’s actions through media interviews and contributions, seeking U.S. support. The State Department responded by issuing a statement on Jan. 24 urging Beijing to stop military pressure on Taiwan.
We must stop China’s territorial violations by using the Korea-U.S. alliance, like Taiwan. If we do nothing, it will become a norm, and China would claim the territorial waters at some point. It is our fate to fight against China over territories and resources. That is why we must confront China based on the Korea-U.S. alliance. We must make China clearly understand that the more it presses us to not side with America, the more we are forced to rely on the alliance.
We must also strengthen our own power to resolutely counter China’s violations. Of course, the total military capabilities are not enough, but we can use the so-called “Hedgehog Concept.” Taiwan is concentrating its resources to develop asymmetrical capabilities to prevent China’s aggression. Taiwan and the U.S. even considered establishing a joint special operations command to utilize the asymmetrical capabilities.
We must create a crucial asymmetrical capability to counter China’s mounting threat. How much longer do we have to endure China’s oppression? Ahead of the Crimean War, then the British Prime Minister John Russel famously said, “If peace cannot be maintained with honour, it is no longer peace.”