By Jun Ji-hye
The Air Force dispatched four F-15K fighter jets after three Chinese military planes entered the overlapping air defense zones of the two countries near Jeju Island, Thursday, officials said Monday.
The Chinese planes, including a bomber, were participating in the country's own military exercise. They briefly flew into the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) over Ieodo, a submerged rock controlled by South Korea, without prior notification.
Situated about 149 kilometers southwest of Jeju Island, Ieodo is an area where the air defense identification zones of South Korea and China overlap.
The intruders left shortly after South Korean military issued a warning message and sent four F-15Ks to the area, according to defense officials.
The incident came amid growing tension between the two countries over Seoul's recent decision to allow the United States Forces Korea to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here. Beijing has strongly protested the plan.
In November 2013, China unilaterally expanded its own air defense zone to cover the airspace over the reef of Ieodo and other islands off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula. In December of the same year, South Korea announced an expansion of the KADIZ to counter the Chinese move, which also included airspace over the reef of Ieodo as well as the southern islands of Marado and Hongdo.
On Jan. 31, China's war planes also passed through the overlapping air defense identification zones, but at the time South Korea did not dispatch fighter jets.
Some observers say China's latest violation of the overlapping zones should be seen as a show of force against the planned deployment of the THAAD battery.
On July 8, Seoul and Washington announced that a THAAD battery will be deployed on Korean soil by the end of next year to better deter evolving nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
Beijing has repeatedly claimed that the THAAD's radar can be used to spy on its military activities, despite Washington's assurances that it only aims to deter Pyongyang's missile attacks.