Asia Minute: Dangerous Air Dispute over the Pacific

Jul 24, 2019

In the Asia Pacific, China and Russia have held an unusual joint aerial mission. Yesterday, the two countries carried out what they described as their first shared long-range air patrol in Asia — drawing a sharp reaction from two U.S. allies.

South Korean military officials say their jets fired hundreds of warning shots and flares at a Russian surveillance aircraft they say entered their country’s air space. Japan’s government says it also scrambled military jets to respond to the flights over islands in the Pacific.

And that is one complicating factor of this story — the airspace is over islands claimed by both South Korea and Japan. South Korea calls the islands Dokdo. Japan calls them Takeshima.

Russia denies any wrongdoing, saying its flights were over neutral waters.

Both South Korea and Japan say that two Chinese bombers were also involved in flights in the area — along with a pair of Russian bombers.

The area is a maze of overlapping stretches of what is known as “Air Defense Identification Zones” — where international planes are expected to identify themselves. But South Korea says Russia violated its sovereign airspace twice – a much more serious charge.

The incident comes at a delicate time, as relations between South Korea and Japan have been strained — while those between Russia and China are strengthening.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense says its troops and naval ships have taken part in military exercises with China in the past, but this is the first time for a joint air patrol in the Asia Pacific.