Russia and China raise tensions with joint air mission
South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots yesterday as Russian and Chinese bombers carried out a groundbreaking joint air patrol.
The mission, which Russia said was its first long-range joint air patrol with China in the Asia-Pacific region, also provoked protests from Japan and South Korea.
The two nations, who both scrambled jets to intercept the bombers, accused the patrol of violating their airspace, an allegation denied by Moscow and Beijing.
The flight by two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers and two Chinese H-6 bombers marks a notable ramping up of military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow, which could raise tension in the region.
While troops and ships from Russia and China have taken part in war games, they have not, according to Russia's Ministry of Defence, conducted joint air patrols in the Asia-Pacific region until yesterday.
"The joint patrol was carried out with the aim of deepening Russian-Chinese relations…of further increasing cooperation between our armed forces, and of perfecting their capabilities to carry out joint actions and of strengthening global strategic security," the ministry said.
Seoul and Tokyo, who both scrambled jets to intercept the Russo-Chinese mission, accused Russia and China of violating their airspaces, an allegation Moscow and Beijing denied.
South Korean warplanes fired hundreds of warning shots towards a Russian A-50 early warning plane which was backing up the bombers, officials in Seoul said. They added the A-50 had entered South Korean airspace.
The Russian and Chinese bombers entered the Korea Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) early yesterday, the South Korean defence ministry said.
The A-50 later twice violated South Korean airspace over Dokdo - an island controlled by Seoul and claimed by both South Korea and Japan, the officials added.
Russia's defence ministry said it did not recognise South Korea's KADIZ, while the Chinese foreign ministry said the area was not territorial airspace.
South Korean fighters did not fire any warning shots toward the bombers, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement, which made no mention of any A-50 aircraft.
It accused the two South Korean F-16 fighter planes of carrying out "unprofessional manoeuvres" and of crossing the path of the Russian bombers and not communicating with them.
A South Korean defence ministry spokesman did not directly address the accusation of reckless behaviour, but stressed that South Korea had never said the Tu-95 bombers had violated its airspace.
South Korea's top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, lodged a strong objection with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council, asking the council to assess the incident and take appropriate action, South Korea's presidential office said.
"We take a very grave view of this situation and, if it is repeated, we will take even stronger action," Chung said, according to South Korea's presidential office.
Japan lodged a complaint with both South Korea and Russia over the incident, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. Tokyo criticised South Korea for taking action against a Russian plane over what Japan says is its airspace.