South Korea’s Air Force leaves Russia fighter jet fleet out in the cold

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

The South Korean Air Force officially announced it will move to a “national effectiveness strategy” ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics later this year.

This has raised tensions with China. The Air Force has been at loggerheads with the Chinese government over Seoul’s deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The two countries were already at odds over South Korea’s decision to ban a massive new Korean Air 747 from flying its airspace.

China suspects the THAAD system could be used to spy on its military facilities.

The US government insists the system is to defend against North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

The government in Beijing has now given the Air Force until the end of September to mothball its remaining three fuel tankers, two of which are dedicated to Russian Sukhoi-70 fighters.

These historic jets, built by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s, are currently parked up in a parking lot at Osan Air Base. One of the remaining two was famously turned into a Soviet-era missile launcher in 2015

“These planes are a part of our image,” said Hyun Sung-bae, deputy commander of the Air Force in a press briefing, “and we can’t simply keep them as they are now.”

Tensions rise

China considers South Korea’s willingness to host THAAD as a violation of its military’s sovereignty. In return, the world’s second largest economy suspended discount tourism to South Korea , partially affecting the Seoul-Hanoi trade route through the South China Sea.

Heating up the tension is the fear that China’s economic retaliation could tip the balance of the Korean peninsula conflict. In retaliation, South Korea has banned Chinese travelers from entering its territory — essentially shutting China out of the region’s largest aid package for the PyeongChang Olympics .

A number of planes have been grounded in July by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense. But the retirement of the Sukhoi planes means South Korea is already out of ammunition — it also has to lay off 180 members of its intelligence-gathering squadron.

The Air Force argues that this will force it to ban airline exports and free flights from security restrictions — both of which would affect Korean brands. But this would completely undermine Seoul’s claim that the THAAD deployment “is necessary for national defense.”

In July, China’s state-run Xinhua reported that aircraft traveling between South Korea and China are banned from flying above 39,000 feet — over the height of the Taeguk 62 rockets launched by North Korea

Since 1950, Seoul has suffered two North Korean invasions and two cold wars.

In 1987, South Korea suffered a disastrous economic downturn caused by Chinese policy.

This time round, the problem may be compounded by global economic uncertainty.

‘Global crisis’

In a wide-ranging interview , president of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, Brian Broomfield, said the nation faced another global economic meltdown.

“It’s a trend I’ve been warning of for years, so I understand what the concern is,” he told CNN. “People are scrambling and laying off workers and things, but we’re seeing a world-wide economic crisis.”

Local politicians have argued the shutdown of commercial airliners serving China and other markets will see Seoul become economically isolated.

Air Lines including Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Jeju Air have been protesting against Beijing’s decision to cease discount flights between South Korea and China.

The Jeju Air Boeing 737-400s sit idle on the tarmac at the Gimpo International Airport. The airliner was in talks with Korean Air about competing on charter flights to cities in China.

Hopes for peace

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