Why N. Korea is warning the US to keep aircraft out of its “economic zone”

Posted on : 2023-07-12 16:52 KST Modified on : 2023-07-12 16:52 KST
Analysts suggest the North may be considering responding to the increased deployment of US strategic assets and reconnaissance activities against it by adopting a Chinese-style strategy of refusing access
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (KCNA/Yonhap)
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (KCNA/Yonhap)

North Korean authorities, including Kim Yo-jong, sent warning messages that mentioned the possibility of shooting down aircraft in response to three US reconnaissance flights off the peninsula’s eastern coast between Monday and Tuesday.

North Korea’s mention of its economic waters in the East Sea, which it has not discussed in the past, raised the likelihood of a possible unintended clash as it signaled a strategy of refusing any approach.

In a statement published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) early Tuesday morning, Kim, who serves as vice department director for the Workers’ Party Central Committee, warned, “In case of repeated illegal intrusion, the US forces will experience a very critical flight.”

In another statement issued around 9 pm the evening before, Kim wrote that a US military reconnaissance aircraft had “again intruded into the sky above the military demarcation line in sea waters under the control of the DPRK side in the sky above the sea 400 km east of Kosong of Kangwon Province.”

She added that the North would “react with clear and resolute actions when they intrude [. . .] again.”

The same morning, a statement credited to a spokesperson for North Korea’s Defense Ministry warned, “There is no guarantee that such shocking accident as downing of the US Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen in the East Sea of Korea.”

Kim’s rare mention of the North’s economic waters in the East Sea has drawn particular attention.

In her Tuesday statement, Kim wrote, “The strategic reconnaissance plane of the US Air Force illegally intruded into the economic water zone of the DPRK side in the East Sea of Korea eight times in the sky above the sea of 435 km east of Thongchon of Kangwon Province~276 km southeast of Uljin of North Kyongsang Province from 5:15 to 13:10 on July 10, to commit an aerial espionage act.”

In her earlier statement on Monday, she warned that a “shocking incident would occur in the long run in the 20–40 km section in which the US spy planes habitually intrude into the sky above the economic water zone of the DPRK beyond the Military Demarcation Line in sea waters.”

DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The armistice agreement reached in 1953 only defines the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) on land. A maritime MDL was not specified after South and North were unable to reach an agreement.

Based on Kim’s mention in her statement of a North Korean air force sortie in response to the US aircraft’s intrusion into its “economic waters” in the East Sea, analysts predicted that North Korea may operate its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the future.

The EEZ represents the waters within 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) of a country’s coast, while the ADIZ is an arbitrary region on the periphery of a country’s territorial airspace that is designated to establish a readiness posture against intrusions. It is a different concept from territorial airspace — one where sovereignty has no bearing.

On that basis, analysts are suggesting the North may be considering responding to the increased deployment of US strategic assets and reconnaissance activities against it by adopting a Chinese-style strategy of refusing access.

In a regular briefing on Tuesday, Lee Sung-jun, the spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained that the “exclusive economic zone is a place where there is freedom to navigate and fly through the airspace.”

“Flights here have not been characterized as ‘intrusions,’ and [North Korea’s] claims along these lines could be seen as having internal aims and being a means of establishing a rationale for provocations,” he suggested.

Cheong Wook-sik, who serves as director of the Hankyoreh Institute of Peace, explained, “Air defense identification zones don’t have defined distances, but many countries use the airspace near their exclusive economic zone as a standard.”

“North Korea’s mention of EEZ airspace could be interpreted as meaning they regard it as identical to their ADIZ,” he added.

Analysts also suggested the successive statements by Kim Yo-jong were meant as a warning message to South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his administration.

A senior official with the previous administration said, “In formal terms, Kim Yo-jong’s two statements targeted the US, but they gave a stronger impression of sending a warning to the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.”

“Yoon has been very militant and aggressive when it comes to North Korea, and she was posing a warning/question asking who stands to suffer if there’s an actual military clash,” they explained.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer; Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles