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The Peninsula

New China-Korea Military Hotlines

Published March 10, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • On March 2, Seoul and Beijing agreed to establish two military hotlines that will connect the South Korean and Chinese navies and air forces in order to prevent military incidents in the region.
  • There are now a total of five military hotlines between South Korea and China; the original three hotlines deal with China’s northern theatre command, and the two new hotlines are for China’s eastern theatre command.
  • The agreement to establish the new hotlines comes amid growing South Korean concerns over Chinese incursions into the Korean air defense identification zone in recent years.

Implications: Seoul anticipates China’s growing military assertiveness to increase the likelihood of tensions between the two countries. The establishment of additional channels to communicate with Chinese counterparts may reflect the Korean military’s acknowledgment of this risk. Many senior South Korean officials have voiced their concerns over China’s frequent intrusions into the South Korean air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Correspondingly, the number of hotlines between the two countries has increased from just one during the 2015 to 2019 period to five in 2021. These military hotlines appear to have been effective in reducing tensions; in 2019, the South Korean military contacted a Chinese plane entering Korea’s ADIZ, and the Chinese plane provided its flight information, assuaging some South Korean concerns. However, it is unclear whether these channels will be sufficient to address China’s increasingly forceful posture in the region.

Context: China first entered South Korea’s air identification zone without prior notification in 2016. ADIZ entries without notification by the Chinese military increased from 50 in 2016 to 140 in 2018, before falling to 25 in 2019. While the air identification zone is not part of South Korea’s sovereign airspace, foreign countries are still required to identify themselves before entering the region in order to avoid any accidents. South Korea’s first military hotline with China was established in 2015 and linked China’s northern theatre command with South Korea’s master control. In 2019, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff called for additional hotlines, citing concerns about the increase in incursions, especially those caused by Chinese and Russian joint exercises. South Korean analysts believed that intrusions into the air defense identification zone in 2019 were primarily designed to gather information on South Korea’s military capabilities.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Melissa Cho and Alexandra Langford. Creative commons picture from Flickr account of Marc Russo.

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