China voices 'regret' over S. Korea's airspace expansion

China voices 'regret' over S. Korea's airspace expansion

BEIJING, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- China on Monday expressed "regret" over South Korea's expansion of its own air defense zone that overlaps a larger part of those of China and Japan, while calling on Seoul to resolve differences over the issue "in a prudent and appropriate manner."

   The reaction by China's foreign ministry came a day after South Korea announced an expanded air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea to counter China's unilateral declaration of its own, bolstering Seoul's sovereignty over a reef and other islands off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula.

"China expresses regret over the ROK's decision of expanding the ADIZ," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular briefing, referring to South Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Republic of Korea.

Hong called on South Korea to "to deal with the relevant issue in a prudent and appropriate manner."

   "China will stay in communication with the ROK, based on the principle of equality and mutual respect," Hong said.

Regional tensions have risen sharply following China's Nov. 23 declaration of its ADIZ that overlaps those of South Korea and Japan. It requires all aircraft entering the zone to notify Chinese authorities and follow their instructions or else face "defensive emergency measures."

   South Korea, Japan and the United States have flown jets in defiance of the new Chinese air defense zone, which is mainly viewed as an attempt to bolster Beijing's claim over a set of islands at the center of a bitter territorial dispute with Japan. The islands are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

South Korea's new air defense zone includes airspace over the Seoul-controlled reef of Ieodo and other southern islands of Marado and Hongdo.

It is the first time that South Korea has adjusted its air defense zone since it was first set by the U.S. military in 1951 to guard against the Chinese offensive during the Korean War (1950-53).

Ieodo, which is also called "Suyan" in China, lies within the overlapping economic zones of the two countries.

"By expanding its ADIZ, the ROK's ADIZ covers the Suyan," Hong said. "With regard to that, I want to point out that the ADIZ is not the territorial airspace. It is established by a country in the public airspace outside its territorial airspace for identification and early warning."

   Hong stressed that, "It has nothing to do with maritime and air jurisdiction. China and the ROK have a consensus on that."

   China's response comes hours after a diplomatic source in Beijing said South Korea had held "sufficient consultations" with the U.S., China and Japan about the expanded air defense zone before its formal announcement.

Meanwhile, a Chinese military expert said South Korea's expansion of its ADIZ is unlikely to cause a dispute between Seoul and Beijing because the two nations could resolve their differences through dialogue.

"The two countries can sit down to resolve possible differences on the issue," Yin Zhuo, a senior Chinese naval expert, told the official newspaper China Daily.

Both Seoul and Beijing understand that neither China's Nov. 23 declaration of its air defense zone nor South Korea's Sunday announcement is an offensive measure, Yin said.

"The possibility of a major conflict between Beijing and Seoul is low," Yin was quoted as saying in the daily.