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(2nd LD) S. Korea nears finalization of expanded air defense zone

All Headlines 17:42 December 02, 2013
Korea raises issue with China's air zone

(2nd LD) S. Korea nears finalization of expanded air defense zone
(ATTN: UPDATES with details on postponement of policy meeting, background in paras 11-13)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Dec. 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has nearly finalized plans for a new air defense zone that includes an ocean research station built on an underwater reef and southern islands, Seoul's officials said Monday.

The latest move comes after China last week declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and demanded all foreign aircraft passing through the zone to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. The area overlaps those of South Korea and Japan and has sharply raised tensions in Northeast Asia.

On Sunday, South Korea's top presidential officials discussed ways to expand its air defense zone to include the country's island of Marado and Hongdo as well as Ieodo Ocean Research Station. The station is built on top of a submerged rock formation within the overlapping exclusive economic zone of South Korea and China.

"(The new KADIZ) has been conceptually finalized," a senior government official said, requesting anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue. "The government will announce the plan after carefully reviewing the military operation and aviation safety as well as the international regulations."

Seoul has come under criticism after it was revealed that KADIZ did not extend over Ieodo about 160 kilometers south of Jeju Island.

Set up in 1951 by the U.S. Air Force, Korea's AIDZ (KADIZ) does not cover the country's airspace over some remote spots.

"The government is preparing (the new air defense zone) in a way that best suits national interests," defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing, without elaborating on details of the draft.

To rectify the air defense zone, the defense minister is required to consult with the related agencies and announce it in a government gazette.

Discussions have been underway over how to notify neighboring countries of the expansion. The decision, once confirmed, is expected to further raise tensions with neighboring nations.

During a senior defense meeting last week, Seoul asked Beijing to redraw the line, but was turned down by the Chinese side, which said the ADIZ was targeted at Tokyo, not Seoul.

The presidential, ruling party and senior government officials were to coordinate the new plan on Tuesday, but the government abruptly put off the schedule on Monday to allow for more time to review the sensitive issue, according to a senior ruling party official.

No specific date has been set up yet, but party officials said the meeting is likely to be held after this week.

The sudden postponement comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due for a weeklong visit to the three East Asian nations this week, which is widely is expected to focus on relieving spiked military tensions over territorial disputes between assertive China and its major Asian allies.

Security analysts offered mixed responses to the Seoul government's move to expand its air defense zone.

Yang Wook, a senior researcher of the Korea Defense and Security Forum, called for the government to take more time to carefully craft the new security policy.

"The foreign affairs and security officials should come up with an answer after making a strategy. It is not smart to hastily bring in a measure to handle the hot-button issue," Yang said. "It is like emotionally jumping into a mud fight."

Others urged policymakers to promptly respond to Beijing's establishment of the controversial defense area that includes South Korean territory to show its firm stance on the issue.

"As (China's ADIZ) takes toll on South Korea, the Seoul government has no option but to declare its own ADIZ that overlaps that of China if consultations produce no outcome," said Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher of Sejong Institute. "A lukewarm response could send a signal that South Korea may make a concession on its own territory."


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