(3rd LD) China rejects S. Korea's demand over air defense zone
SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- China rejected South Korea's demand to redraw its newly declared air defense zone overlapping the South's own zone, an official said Thursday, in a move certain to escalate the row between the two countries and fuel rising tensions in the region.
South Korea raised the issue as a priority during annual defense strategy talks with China. Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo expressed strong regret and demanded Beijing take corrective measures, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
"China's response was that it decided not to accept the demand," he said.
Baek's counterpart was Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of China's military.
South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo (R) shakes hands with Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, ahead of annual defense talks in Seoul on Nov. 28. (Yonhap)
Last week, Beijing declared the new air defense identification zone that covers a larger part of the East China Sea than before. The move angered Seoul because the zone encroaches upon that of the South and covers the underwater rock of Ieodo controlled by South Korea.
The Chinese zone also overlaps Japan's and includes a set of islands at the center of a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo -- known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Tokyo has vehemently protested China's move.
China's decision has also raised fears of a clash with the United States. The zone includes Japanese islands that the United States has used as firing ranges. In a clear sign it won't recognize the zone, the U.S. military flew a pair of B-52 bombers through the zone on Tuesday.
"Our position conveyed to China was that it is very regrettable that China's air defense identification zone overlaps ours and even includes Ieodo, and there was no prior consultation" with Seoul on the matter, Kim said.
"We made it clear that we cannot recognize this and that our jurisdiction over waters around Ieodo won't be affected regardless of the setting of air defense identification zones by neighboring countries," he said.
Baek also told China that South Korea is also considering expanding its own air defense zone in order to "safeguard our national interests," the spokesman said. Baek also pointed out that countries in the region should hold discussions to promote trust and reduce tensions, Kim said.
The government in Seoul has come under fire for failing to include Ieodo in its air defense zone. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said Tuesday the government will consider expanding the zone to include Ieodo, about 149 kilometers southwest of Korea's southernmost island of Marado.
Thursday's talks came amid tensions in the region have been sharply rising after China unilaterally set the zone, obligating all aircraft entering the area to report to Chinese authorities and follow their instructions.
Despite China's declaration, South Korea has continued routine patrol flights over Ieodo without giving notification to Beijing. Navy and Coast Guard planes patrol the waters around Ieodo about three to five times a week, officials said.
On Thursday, China said it is monitoring the South's flights.
"China will identify any aircraft within the ADIZ. So, China must note the relevant situation you mentioned," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing in response to a question about Wednesday's flight by the South Korean military.
In Seoul, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said that South Korea will study all possibilities from the context of maximizing its national interests. He made the remark in response to a question about whether Seoul will expand its air defense zone.
A senior White House official made an unannounced visit to Seoul earlier this week to discuss China's decision with Seoul officials. Evan Medeiros, the senior director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council (NSC), held talks Wednesday with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun and presidential officials.
Medeiros outlined Washington's position on the issue and expressed concerns that China's move is feared to exert a negative influence on relations between the U.S. and China, as well as those with other countries in the region, a senior Seoul official said.
The two sides agreed to continue have close consultations on the issue, the official said.
Despite the row, South Korea and China agreed in Thursday's talks to strengthen the exchanges of high-level military officials, conclude a memorandum of understanding on establishing a "hotline" between their defense ministries and expand an exchange program for young military officers.
The two sides also shared an understanding on the need for sharing know-how and experiences in peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations so as to expand opportunities to contribute to the international community, the ministry said.