South Korea counters China’s air defense zone by expanding its own over submerged reef

A South Korean missile destroyer sits off the research station built atop the Ieodo reef in the East China Sea in an undated photo. Yonhap / EPA

South Korea said Sunday that it will expand its air defense zone to include the area around a submerged rock and islands that it controls in the East China Sea, in a challenge to a similar move by China last month.

The new zone partially overlaps the zone that China declared on Nov. 23, Reuters reported.

South Korea's announcement covers two territorial islands and the submerged reef that the South Koreans call Ieodo. A tall research station with a helipad is built atop the rock, which lies about 100 miles southwest of South Korea’s Jeju Island in the East China Sea. The rock is known by the Chinese as Suyan and is also called Socotra Rock.

China’s declaration of its zone led to new tensions with Japan over several uninhabited islands that both countries claim. Beijing has said that aircraft traveling through its zone must provide flight plans and maintain radio contact with Chinese authorities.

Japan and the United States have said they won’t recognize the Chinese zone and have flown military aircraft through it in defiance. Japanese airliners also ignored the Chinese declaration. Vice President Joe Biden relayed U.S. displeasure over the zone during meetings with President Xi Jinping in Beijing this week. Biden also met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said that country's new zone matches southern portions of its broader flight information region, the Yonhap news agency reported.

"We believe this will not significantly impact our relationships with China and with Japan as we try to work for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia," Defense Ministry official Jang Hyuk told a briefing, Reuters reported.

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