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Asia-pacific

China sends fighter jets into disputed airspace

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-29

Tensions have risen further after the Chinese air force sent fighter jets into a controversial new air defence zone on Thursday, following US, Japanese and Korean military flights in the same disputed area over the East China Sea.

China sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into its new air defence zone over the East China Sea on Thursday, raising the stakes in a standoff with the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Japan and South Korea also flew military aircraft through the zone on Thursday while Washington sent two unarmed B-52 bombers into the airspace earlier this week in a sign of support for its ally Japan. None of those aircraft informed Beijing.

Conflicting airspaces in China Sea

“China announced on Saturday this new air identification zone, suddenly expanding its airspace and demanding that aircraft flying through notify Chinese authorities of their route in advance,” said FRANCE 24’s Tokyo correspondent Gavin Blair.

He added that the zone covered the disputed Diaoyu/Sengagku Islands, which made its designation a provocative move.

The Chinese patrol mission was “a defensive measure and in line with international common practices”, the official news agency Xinhua cited air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying.

“China’s air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country’s airspace,” Shen added.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained for months by the dispute over the islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands but recognises Tokyo’s administrative control and says the US-Japan security pact applies to them.

Sabre rattling

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that since the zone came into force there had been no impact on the safe operation of international civilian flights, although it added that China “hoped” airlines would cooperate.

Japan’s two biggest airlines have defied the identification order since Wednesday at the request of the Japanese government.

FRANCE 24’s Blair said the latest Chinese air patrols represented “an escalation in the region and the biggest danger with all this sabre-rattling going on would be an accidental collision in the area between aircraft”.

Although there are risks of a confrontation in the zone, US and Chinese military officials have stepped up communication with each other in recent years and are in regular contact to avoid accidental clashes.

US Vice President Joe Biden is visiting China, Japan and South Korea next week, and will try to diffuse tensions over the issue, senior U.S. administration officials said.

The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, praised the government for its calm response in the face of “provocations”, saying China would not target the United States in the zone as long as it “does not go too far”.

But it warned Japan it could expect a robust response if it continued to fly military aircraft in the zone.

 

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)

Date created : 2013-11-29

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