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(LEAD) S. Korea announces air zone expansion to counter Chinese claims

2013/12/08 14:27

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea announced a new air defense zone on Sunday to counter China's unilateral decision to expand its own, bolstering its sovereignty over a reef off the south coast and other islands around the Korean Peninsula.

The new air defense and identification zone was designed to have its southern boundary match the country's broader flight information region (FIR), and includes airspace over the South-controlled reef of Ieodo, the defense ministry said.

The announcement came in response to China's Nov. 23 decision to create a new air zone that overlaps those of South Korea and Japan, and includes Ieodo and a set of islands at the center of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.

The Chinese decision sparked outrage from Seoul and Tokyo.

South Korea has said it won't recognize the Chinese zone and has flown aircraft through it. Seoul has also prepared to expand its own air zone after Beijing refused to reconsider its decision when the two sides held high-level defense talks last week.

China has said Seoul's new air zone "should be in line with international law and convention."

   Ahead of Sunday's announcement, South Korea had briefed neighboring countries on its expansion plan, and the countries expressed understanding and did not take the decision as an "excessive" measure, officials said.

Beijing's unexpected announcement was seen as a strong sign that Beijing is taking its foreign policy assertiveness to a higher level, in part to counter U.S. efforts to increase its influence in the region under President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" policy.

The U.S. has raised serious concerns and said it won't recognize the Chinese zone.

The issue was a key topic for U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during his trip to Japan, China and South Korea. His talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping produced no breakthrough, with both sides sticking to their positions.

On Friday, Biden held talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. When Park outlined South Korea's position on the issue, Biden "appreciated President Park's explanation and South Korea's efforts," officials said.