Japan does not see problem in S. Korea's expanded air zone: Suga

Japan will not make an issue of South Korea's newly expanded air defense identification zone as it does not infringe upon the freedom of flights in international airspace, the government's top spokesman said Monday.

"We don't see it (the ADIZ) developing into a problem," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

"What is different from China's action is that the zone does not cover our territory, sea or airspace," Suga said, referring to China's recent establishment of its ADIZ overlapping with those of Japan and South Korea.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Japan was notified by South Korea of its plan to expand the ADIZ beforehand, and Tokyo told Seoul that Self-Defense Forces aircraft and Japanese civilian aircraft will operate in the same way as before. There was no objection from Seoul, the official said.

Nearly two weeks after China's abrupt declaration on Nov. 23 of its new ADIZ that covers Japan's Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, South Korea said Sunday it has decided to expand its own zone from Dec. 15.

South Korea's expanded airspace overlaps with that of Japan and China over the Ieodo reef in the East China Sea, raising concerns that it could become a destabilizing factor in the region. The submerged reef is controlled by Seoul but claimed by Beijing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to keep in contact with South Korea to prevent a contingency.

"We've been having exchanges at various levels between the SDF and the Korean army," Onodera told reporters at the prime minister's office after meeting with Abe. "South Korea's air defense zone is completely different from China's."

China's ADIZ requires all foreign aircraft flying through it to submit flight plans beforehand to Chinese authorities or planes risk being subjected to "emergency defensive measures," drawing immediate protests from Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Japan and the United States have criticized Beijing for its unilateral action to change the status quo, as the ADIZ covered the Senkakus at the heart of bilateral tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

Tokyo has urged airlines not to comply with the new rules, while Washington has allowed its airlines to do so.

Air defense identification zones serve as national defense perimeters to determine whether fighters should be scrambled when foreign aircraft enter without prior notification.