The Seoul government is set to finalize a plan to expand its air defense identification zone in response to China’s proclamation on Nov. 23 of a new zone that overlaps those of Korea and Japan.
China’s new ADIZ is seen as primarily aimed at bolstering its claim to a group of islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The islands are under Japan’s control, but China also claims sovereignty over them.
The problem is that China’s new defense perimeter also includes Ieodo, a submerged rock southwest of Marado, Korea’s southernmost territory. The reef is outside of Korea’s territorial waters but is under its control as the nation considers it to be inside its exclusive economic zone. Korea operates an ocean research station built on it.
Ieodo, however, is not included in the current Korean ADIZ ― perplexingly, it is within Japan’s. The Untied States, which drew the zones in 1951 in the middle of the Korean War, put it in the Japanese area, together with part of Korea’s territory, including Marado and Hongdo, an inhabited islet south of Geojedo Island, South Gyeongsang Province.
Since the 1960s, Korea has sought to alter the U.S.-drawn zone many times. But Japan has rejected Korea’s repeated demands for readjustment of its air zone. In this regard, it is only right for the Seoul government to extend its air defense boundary to include not just Ieodo but Korea’s territory that is covered by the Japanese ADIZ.
Korea’s expansion plan, however, is not likely to be welcomed by China and Japan, just as Korea, Japan and the U.S. refuse to recognize China’s new zone. Korea may not get support from Washington either, as the powerful ally seeks to maintain the status quo.
Korea’s move could even prompt China and Japan to redraw their air zones in the West Sea and East Sea, respectively. China has already told Korea that it will expand its ADIZ in the West Sea.
Japan may also attempt to extend its air defense boundary in the East Sea to encompass Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost territory, which is also claimed by Japan.
Despite the prospect of escalating tension with China and Japan, however, Korea needs to push ahead with its plan to expand its ADIZ to maintain its territorial integrity and maximize its national interests.
The task calls for exceptional diplomatic finesse from the Seoul government, as it needs to win recognition of its plan from its neighbors without triggering a backlash. In this respect, it is wise of the government to promote prior consultations on the issue with the countries involved.
Amid increased tension over China’s new ADIZ, Seoul and Beijing have agreed to resume talks on demarcating their exclusive economic zones this month after a five-year hiatus. The negotiations broke down over Ieodo, as both countries asserted jurisdiction over it.
Ieodo has become all the more important to Korea as it is related to demarcating not only its EEZ but its ADIZ. Given its increased strategic importance, Korea cannot abandon its jurisdiction over the rock.
In its negotiations with China, Korea enjoys the upper hand, because Ieodo is only 149 kilometers away from Marado, while it is some 250 kilometers away from the nearest Chinese island.