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Countering China, S. Korea Expands Its Own Air Defense Zone

Japanese Coast Guard vessels sail near a group of disputed islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan.
Emily Wang
Japanese Coast Guard vessels sail near a group of disputed islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan.

Another diplomatic shot was fired in the spate unfolding over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea on Sunday: Countering China, South Korea announced that it was expanding its air defense zone to partially cover some of the same area China laid claim to in November.

Here's how The Washington Post explains it:

"South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said the new zone would include two small islands and a submerged rock historically disputed with China. Air defense identification zones are not territorial claims, but they mark the airspace that countries feel are important to monitor. Officials in Washington and across Asia say the competing aerial zones raise the risk of mishaps that could trigger a broader conflict.

"South Korea plans to hold talks with 'related countries' in order to 'prevent accidental military clashes' within the expanded zone, the defense ministry said in a statement. The South said the zone, known as an ADIZ, would take effect December 15."

As we've reported, China has asked any aircraft flying over the islands to share their flight plans with them. The U.S., which is obligated by treaty to defend South Korea, responded by flying bombers across the airspace. China sent its own war planes to the zone.

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden tried to calm the waters, saying the U.S. was "deeply concerned" about the situation.

"This underscores the need for crisis management mechanisms and effective channels of communication between China and Japan to reduce the risk of escalation," Biden said.

The AP reports that the U.S. stood by South Korea's new air defense zone, which also overlaps with some of Japan's declared air defense zone. The U.S. State Department said South Korea's approach "avoids confusion for, or threats to, civilian airlines."

"The United States has been and will remain in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region to ensure their actions contribute to greater stability, predictability, and consistency with international practices," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, according to the AP.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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