KADIZ intrusions by China, Russia underscore need for tighter alliance

SEOUL, -- The recent incursions by Chinese and Russian warplanes into South Korea's air defense zone have brought home a sobering message: An inkling of a chasm in the U.S.' alliance network in Northeast Asia could lead to such overt breaches.

On Tuesday, a group of Chinese and Russian bombers in a joint military exercise violated the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ), before one Russian surveillance plane even entered the country's territorial air near its easternmost islets of Dokdo.

The breaches came amid concerns that an increasingly acrimonious diplomatic spat between Seoul and Tokyo, the two key Asian allies of Washington, could reopen cracks in America's alliance network that it has touted as a centerpiece of regional stability.

"Many have shared the view that the tight security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan could serve as a cornerstone of regional stability, and that should there be a chasm in that, there would be forces keen on driving a wedge among them," said Nam Chang-hee, a professor of international politics at Inha University.

"Had security cooperation among Washington and its Asian allies been really tight, there would not have been any room for outside forces to barge in. After all, the row between Seoul and Tokyo appears to have opened that room," he added.

Seoul and Tokyo have been caught in a rancorous row over Japan's wartime forced labor and its recent export control measure seen as political retaliation for last year's Supreme Court rulings here over the historical issue.

The row has also been seen spilling over into the security realm as Seoul has hinted that it could review whether to renew a military intelligence-sharing arrangement with Tokyo viewed as a key platform for trilateral defense cooperation involving Washington.

No doubt that escalating tensions could stymie a U.S. drive to bring its allies together to tighten up its security network aimed at keeping in check China and Russia, which the Pentagon has portrayed as a "revisionist power" and "revitalized malign actor," respectively.

Mindful of worries about a rift between Seoul and Tokyo, Washington has sent senior officials to its regional allies where they highlighted the importance of cooperation among the allies and called for an early resolution of the seemingly intractable historical issue.

On Wednesday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, who arrived here the previous day for a two-day visit following a trip to Tokyo, held talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and other top Seoul officials.

During talks between Kang and Bolton, the two sides agreed to work together under the shared understanding that efforts to explore a diplomatic solution to the issue between Seoul and Tokyo through dialogue would "serve the interests of all."

Further complicating the efforts to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. allies is Japan's renewed claim to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.

After South Korea fired warning shots in response to a Russian warplane's entry into its airspace near Dokdo, Japan issued a protest over Seoul's reaction and renewed its claim to the rocky outcroppings in the East Sea.

The incursions by Chinese and Russian military planes into the KADIZ came in the midst of uncertainties over the future of America's regional alliance system that has arisen with U.S. President Donald Trump's unique transactional approach to the U.S. allies.

Trump has taken issue with the allies' "free-riding" on Washington's security commitments, called for them to jack up their defense spending and do more to address imbalances in trade with the U.S.

Uncertainties over the U.S. alliance network also came in the face of an increasingly assertive China that has apparently been striving to project power far beyond its shores based on its growing military heft and economic prowess.

Amid an intense trade conflict with the U.S., China has also appeared to be beefing up security ties with Russia, stoking fears that Cold War-like tensions could re-emerge with power politics likely to take firmer hold in the region.

Adding to the tensions is North Korea which has recently showed off its development of a larger submarine capable of carrying several submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) seen as a strategic weapon that could affect the regional security landscape.

In recent years, the North has been steadily pushing to develop the SLBMs, which experts say could serve as a crucial asset for retaliatory strikes, both conventional and nuclear, in the event of an attack.

Such military developments point to the need for tighter security cooperation among the U.S. and its Asian allies in curbing any provocative acts from within and outside the peninsula and promoting regional security, observers said.

"Security cooperation among the countries could help keep the regional status quo and help China play a constructive role in promoting regional peace," professor Nam said.

It remains uncertain to what extent Washington would engage to promote reconciliation between its allies. But many concur that the Trump administration facing a slew of challenges at home and abroad and favors stronger cohesion in its alliance network.

The U.S. has recently been pushing to form an international military coalition to safeguard free navigation in the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, for which it apparently wants Seoul and Tokyo to put up a united front.

It is also pursuing the Indo-Pacific strategy, an alliance-based scheme to safeguard global commons in maritime and other domains from coercion possibly from an assertive China.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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