Korean Airlines Begin Filing Flight Plans in China Defense Zone

Two South Korean airlines started submitting flight plans to China when entering its self-declared air-defense zone, splitting ranks with Japan which has told its commercial operators not to comply.

Korean Air Lines Co. and Asiana Airlines Inc. both said they are notifying Chinese authorities from today when traveling through the zone in the East China Sea that China announced Nov. 23, angering neighbors South Korea and Japan because it covers disputed areas. U.S. airlines have also been urged to inform China, leaving Japan alone in pressing its commercial carriers not to supply such flight data. ANA Holdings Inc. and Japan Airlines Co. last month stopped sharing flight plans with Chinese authorities after earlier agreeing to do so as Japan denounced China’s move.

“It’s kind of a risky game,” for Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to comply, according to Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “It may be the Chinese side chooses to ignore that Japan doesn’t file flight plans. They may say at least we’ve made our point.”

China created the defense zone over an area that includes disputed islands administered by Japan and a submerged rock claimed by South Korea. The unilateral decision pushed those countries together and closer to the U.S., which maintains troops and bases in both countries.

Disputed Rock

South Korea said Dec. 9 it will extend its own air-defense identification zone to cover islands and the underwater rock, overlapping with the zones of China and Japan. The rock, called Ieodo in Korean and Suyan Rock in Chinese, is a source of national pride in South Korea and houses a research station and helipad.

Asiana Airlines began submitting the plans from this morning, according to spokeswoman Lee Hyo Min. Korean Air has about 70 flights a day that require submission of plans to China, according to an e-mailed response from the company to a Bloomberg News query. The airlines said South Korea’s Transport Ministry had approved of the carriers complying with the Chinese demands.

Almost all flights to and from Southeast Asia pass through this zone, according to the ministry. There are about 500 flights per day that take off and land at South Korea’s four main airports that use this route. Of that total, about 310 are made by domestic airlines and the rest by foreign airlines.

Japan, South Korea and the U.S. have flown military aircraft through the area to test China’s resolve to control the zone.

“We do not recognize this zone,” Vice President Joe Biden Dec. 6 on a visit to Seoul. “It will have no effect on American operations. Just ask my general. None. Zero.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the Korean decision at a press briefing today in Tokyo. Japan won’t changes its view on the zone, he said.

“There is no change to the government policy of working with other countries to urge China to reverse the measure to make sure there is no infringement of the right to free flight,” Suga said.