F-16s take off from Osan Military Airbase in Pyeongtaek. Photo: AFP/Seung-il Ryu
F-16s take off from Osan Military Airbase in Pyeongtaek. Photo: AFP/Seung-il Ryu

Chinese warplanes reportedly breached Korea’s air defense identification zone on Monday, prompting South Korea’s Air Force to scramble fighter jets in response. The incident occurred two days after President Moon Jae-in concluded a summit in Beijing to mend ties between China and South Korea over a US antimissile system.

Korea JoongAng Daily said that five Chinese military aircraft, including bombers and fighter jets, entered the Korean air defense identification zone also known as Kadiz at 10:10 am Monday near some underwater reefs located south of Jeju Island. The reefs are situated in waters claimed by both China and South Korea.

South Korean military officials said the Chinese planes included two nuclear-capable Xian H-6 bombers, two J-11 fighter jets and a Tu-154 reconnaissance aircraft. South Korea scrambled F-15K and KF-16 fighters in response and followed the Chinese until they left the Kadiz.

“We contacted the Chinese side through our hotline and they said they had been conducting regular [military] exercises,” a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters. “We are in the process of analyzing the Chinese military’s exact intentions.”

Some observers doubt that the Chinese flights were a deliberate provocation. “Because the Korea-China summit was just held, it doesn’t seem like China held the drills targeting Korea,” Park Byung-kwang, a senior researcher with the Seoul-based Institute for National Security Strategy was quoted by JoongAng as saying.  “It appears that China’s goal was to reconfirm its ADIZ and conduct reconnaissance of Japan.”

In an earlier incident, a dozen Chinese planes reportedly entered the Kadiz on January 9 this year prompting the South to scramble 10 fighters.

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