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Date TimeJuly 24, 2019
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Russia denies apologising to South Korea as tensions continue over aerial showdown
Moscow has denied that it apologised to Seoul as tensions continue to rise after South Korean fighter jets fired hundreds of warning shots at a Russian military plane.  On Wednesday a South Korean presidential spokesman said a Russian official had expressed “deep regret” that an A-50 observation plane had violated its airspace the day before near the disputed Dokdo islands. The aircraft had been accompanying four strategic bombers in Russia and China's first ever joint bomber flight over the Sea of Japan.  The Russian official had blamed the intrusion on a “technical glitch” and promised it would be investigated, the spokesman added. But the Russian embassy to South Korea said these statements “did not correspond to reality”.  “The Russian side has not made any official apologies,” it said.  The South Korean spokesman later said Russia had “altered” its account, sending a document that said its planes had not violated any country's airspace and would retaliate if confronted again. China has made similar denials.  On Tuesday, Moscow gave a note to South Korea's military attache protesting the Korean pilots' "aerial hooliganism". Seoul's defence ministry has accused Moscow of “distorting the truth”. Reuters reported that the two sides could hold working-level talks in Seoul on Thursday.  John Bolton speaks with South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in Seoul on Wednesday Credit: Handout via Reuters South Korean jets had to fire 360 machine gun rounds and 20 flares to drive off the Russian A-50 that twice violated its airspace, according to Seoul.  The incursion came hours before Donald Trump's security advisor John Bolton arrived in Seoul to try to mend South Korea's relations with Japan, which also claims the Dokdo islands. He and his South Korean counterpart said they would hold close consultations on any further such confrontations. The incident highlighted growing military ties between China and Russia, which held their latest joint naval and aerial exercises in the East China and Yellow seas in May, as well as their more assertive defiance of the United States and its allies in the region.  A Chinese defence ministry white paper on Wednesday accused the United States of “undermining the regional strategic balance” by deploying the THAAD missile defence system to South Korea.  China boycotted South Korea tourism in 2017 in response to Seoul's decision to allow the US to deploy the system.  The white paper also said China was “ready to go to war” to prevent the independence of Taiwan, which receives weapons from Washington. Meanwhile, South Korea is planning to launch its first light aircraft carrier by the late 2020s so as not to fall behind China and Japan's strides in naval aviation. The vessel will reportedly deploy US-made vertical-landing F-35B stealth fighters. South Korea has tried to placate both its security ally, the US, and top trading partner, China. As China amasses economic and military power, it has challenged American dominance in other parts of Asia, offering investment to allies and economic punishment to political foes.

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