Korean Navy conducts drill close to Ieodo

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Korean Navy conducts drill close to Ieodo

The Korean Navy yesterday launched a joint sea and air military drill near the waters surrounding Ieodo, submerged rocks in the East China Sea that Beijing recently included in its unilaterally drawn air defense identification zone (ADIZ), and in the air space above them.

The drill, which saw the deployment of two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft and an Aegis destroyer, examined Korea’s maritime research station and watched for any suspicious activities on the waters. Yulgok Yi I, a DDG-992 Aegis-class destroyer, was mobilized on Monday to participate in the joint air and naval operation. Korea has three Aegis warships but is reviewing a plan to double that number over the next decade.

The military exercise comes at a time of heightened tension in the region, as Washington, Seoul and Tokyo all deployed military aircraft without first notifying Chinese authorities. The demonstration was seen as an act of defiance against the unilaterally drawn flight space.

“Under international law, Ieodo is located in open waters, but because of our maritime research station, it is pretty much our territory,” a senior naval public relations officer told reporters. “This operation is our Navy’s way of showing its intention to protect our jurisdiction over Ieodo’s waters.”

Korea opened the Ieodo Ocean Research Station in 2003 to indicate its jurisdiction over the reef, which is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) southwest of Jeju Island.

The destroyer sailed from a naval base in Jinhae for 17 hours before anchoring in Ieodo waters, some 200 meters (218 yards) away from the maritime research station.

The Korean P-3C aircraft crossed into Japan’s ADIZ during the operation. Japanese authorities were notified 30 minutes beforehand and Korea got the OK yesterday morning.

The government is currently finalizing its plans to expand Korea’s ADIZ to include Ieodo, located in the overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Seoul and Beijing, but which is effectively controlled by Korea.

The most ideal situation would be to have one that coincides with Korea’s flight information region (FIR), a specific airspace in which flight information and alert services are provided that is set by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The government has informed Korean airlines not to notify Chinese authorities of its flight plans when crossing through Beijing’s newly declared ADIZ. The Korean government was scheduled to publicize its plan to expand Korea’s ADIZ, but the announcement was canceled yesterday, reportedly following a visit from U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim to the Ministry of National Defense.

The plan is expected to included Ieodo and possibly Hong Island.

“Our government [is set] to expand the [Korean air defense identification zone],” a Defense Ministry official said yesterday, “but considering that a unilateral announcement can easily lead to heightened conflict, Korea and the U.S. are coordinating when to announce it.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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