The Chinese government’s decision to establish an “air defense identification zone” over the disputed Diaoyu Islands (called the Senkaku Islands by Japan) has angered both Japan and the U.S. Tensions escalated between China and Japan in 2012 when Japan bought three of the islands from their private owner, sparking protests in China. BBC reports on the new zone, in which the Chinese military would require all aircraft to identify themselves:
In its statement, the Chinese defence ministry said aircraft must report a flight plan, “maintain two-way radio communications”, and “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries.
“China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not co-operate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” said the statement.
It said the zone came into effect from 10:00 local time (02:00GMT) on Saturday.
The first Chinese air patrols went into action in the region on Saturday, according to the Washington Post:
Later Saturday, the country’s air force conducted its first air patrol after the establishment of the new zone, with two large scouts leading the mission and early-warning aircraft and fighters providing support and cover, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
“The patrol is in line with international common practices, and normal international flights will not be affected,” said Shen Jinke, spokesman for the air force. He said the Chinese armed forces would take measures to deal with any air threats to protect the security of the country’s airspace.
Numerous countries, including the United States and Japan, have air defense identification zones of their own. The zones are established to help countries track or monitor aircraft nearing their territories, but in this case, the zones of Japan and China overlap. Security experts worry that China’s new zone could increase the likelihood of a mishap that sparks a wider armed conflict, drawing in the United States, which is treaty-bound to protect Japan. [Source]
Both Japan and the United States have protested China’s move. From the New York Times:
The Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, called the Chinese declaration a dangerous escalation that could lead to what many military analysts most fear in the tense standoff: a miscalculation or accident that could set off an armed confrontation and drag the United States into the conflict.
“It was a one-sided action and cannot be allowed,” Mr. Kishida told reporters, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. It could also “trigger unpredictable events,” he warned.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly rejected Mr. Kishida’s objections. “The Japanese side’s irresponsible comments about China’s demarcation of an East China Sea air defense identification zone are totally wrong,” a spokesman for the ministry, Qin Gang, said in comments published on its website on Sunday. [Source]
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the new zone is unenforceable, ABC News reports:
Abe told a parliamentary session that China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone alters the state of affairs in the East China Sea and escalates a tense situation.
“The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace,” Abe said during an Upper House session. “It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well.” [Source]
The White House also filed a formal protest, Reuters reports:
The White House, State Department and Pentagon issued statements after China bolstered its claim to islands that Japan says it owns, warning that it would take “defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in airspace over them.
“We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
The White House said the “escalatory development” increased regional tensions and affected U.S. interests and those of its allies.
“We have conveyed our strong concerns to China and are coordinating closely with allies and partners in the region,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council. [Source]
An article in Xinhua defended the establishment of the zone, and said it is, “not only perfectly legitimate, but also in line with current international practice.”
See also: “Learning the Lessons of Scarborough Reef” from the National Interest.