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South Korea declares air space defense zone; no surprise to State Department

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Airspace disputes were a key discussion with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. during his six day visit to stops in Japan, China and South Korea. However, South Korea announced that it was expanding its air patrol zone for the first time in 62 years yesterday, reports the N.Y. Times.

This expansion over the submerged reef called Ieodo in South Korea and Suyan Rock in China is controlled by South Korea, which maintains a maritime research station there. China claims it as well. The seabed around the reef is believed to be rich in natural gas and mineral deposits.

This announcement comes after Biden left Asia and after extensive talks with Japan and China over the Chinese announcement Nov. 23 to have an air identification zone over islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

South Korea announced on Sunday that the new air defense zone would begin in one week. There was no official response from Beijing or Tokyo as yet.

The U.S. State Department, in a statement released after the South Korean announcement, said it had ‘conferred’ with Seoul on the expansion, including in a meeting Friday between South Korean President Park ­Geun-hye and Vice President Biden.

China did release an unofficial statement through a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stating that the South’s expansion 'should comply with international laws and conventions' and that Beijing is 'ready to stay in communication' with Seoul.

It appears that the discussions Biden had with the pivotal three last week has allowed for silent cooperation in territorial situations such as this one.

The State Department offered support for South Korea’s approach and is keeping lines of communication open with Japan and China, so there will be no threats to civilian airlines or air space accidents, said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman.

South Korea has been building a $970 million naval base in Jeju, an island off the southern coast of South Korea, to protect its shipping lanes for South Korea’s highly dependent, export driven economy and ability to respond to any regional disputes such as the submerged mineral and gas rich reef.

The three East Asian pivotal countries have each declared their positions to protect their assets and Vice President Biden was clear last week in his meetings of the U.S. position for East Asia. So far, the trip was successful in its clarity provided by Biden and his message to the three key countries.

The diplomatic visit ended with Vice President Biden's visit to the Korean demilitarized zone.

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