ADIZ dispute not decisive factor in Sino-Korean ties

By Cai Jian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-18 19:43:02

Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

China announced on November 23 the establishment of its ADIZ, which overlaps with the ADIZs of Japan and South Korea. It covers the Diaoyu Islands over which China has a dispute with Japan, and also covers Suyan Rock (known as Socotra Rock internationally), which is located within the overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of China and South Korea.

The US and Japan have lodged strong protests with Beijing by calling the ADIZ "totally unacceptable." On December 8, Seoul declared a southward expansion of its own ADIZ, stirring up the little-known Sino-South Korean row over Suyan Rock.

Located in the overlapping area of the EEZs of the two countries, Suyan Rock is an isolated submerged reef, but not territory, according to international laws. However, South Korea has attempted to confuse public opinion by calling the reef an island and exaggerating the issue as a territorial and sovereignty controversy.

China maintains that maritime borders should be demarcated in line with the natural extension of the continental shelf and Japan proposes the so-called "median line" in the East China Sea as a division standard.

Meanwhile, South Korea has started from its own interests by urging Beijing to accept the principle of the "median line" on the one hand and the continental shelf application to Tokyo, thereby generating the dispute with Japan over the Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japanese, as well as the dispute with China over Suyan Rock.

Boasting abundant fishing resources, oil, gas and mineral resources, Suyan Rock is of great significance, apart from its advantageous military position.

During the Cold War, South Korea used to follow Washington in political issues and diplomacy and rely on it for military security while engaging in an "all-out confrontation" with Beijing. It established diplomatic ties with China after the Cold War and then enjoyed burgeoning development in bilateral ties.

In the meantime, South Korea has also been gaining more independence in its relations with the US but remains trapped in the paradox of "dependence on the US for security and China for economics."

President Park Geun-hye has made a change to her predecessors' pro-US policies and has pushed a "balanced diplomacy" after assuming office earlier this year, cautiously walking a tightrope between the two powers.

Beijing has gained strength in recent years, prompting Washington to initiate the "rebalancing" strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, in which Tokyo and Seoul serve as important participants.

Therefore, it is not easy for South Korea to bring its "balanced diplomacy" into effect amid conflicts of interest between China and the US before they forge a new type of great power relations.

The conservative JoongAng Ilbo published an article commenting that it now seems a wise, though not the best, choice for Seoul to join the camp of the US, Australia and Japan who strongly oppose China's demarcation of its ADIZ.

Meanwhile, an article from a Japan-based writer for The Diplomat claimed "it seems that relations between China and South Korea may be creeping back to their normal state: opportunity coupled with mistrust."

However, it is an indisputable fact that China is rising in an unprecedented way and serves as much more than a trading partner for Seoul, meaning Korea will adopt a more comprehensive strategic approach toward ties with China in the future.

It is a myopic option to "befriend a distant state while antagonizing a neighbor" or to hedge against China with the external assistance of great powers.

As close neighbors, China and South Korea should make meticulous calculations and formulate proper foreign policies to promote exchanges, eliminate misunderstanding and build political mutual trust to work for a "strategic partnership" in a real sense.

The author is vice director of the Center for Korean Studies, Fudan University.

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