Map of east china sea and declared air defence zone

The BBC reports, Nov. 26, 2013, that the United States has flown two B-52 bombers over the disputed islands in the East China Sea in defiance of China’s declaration last Saturday of a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the sea.

China and Japan both claim ownership over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are a source of increasing tension between the two countries.

The aircraft, which were unarmed, had taken off from Guam on Monday and the flight was part of a regular exercise in the area, US defense officials said. Both planes later returned to Guam.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the U.S. bombers had followed “normal procedures” and that Washington had “conducted operations in the area of the Senkakus. We have continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies.” There had been no response from China, he added.

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The US – which has more than 70,000 troops in Japan and South Korea – had previously said it would not abide by the Chinese-imposed zone. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region”.

China set up the ADIZ insisting that aircraft obey its rules by warning China of their flight plans or face “emergency defensive measures.”  In a statement announcing the air defense zone, the Chinese defense ministry said aircraft must report a flight plan, “maintain two-way radio communications” and “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries. The statement warns, “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.”

Japan has dismissed the Chinese ADIZ as “not valid at all” and two of its biggest airlines announced today they will not abide by China’s new rules, in accordance with a request from the government in Tokyo.

But Reuters reported yesterday (Nov. 25) that four Asian airlines will give their flight plans to Beijing:

Civil aviation officials from Hong Kong and Taiwan said their carriers entering the zone must send flight plans to Chinese aviation authorities. A transport ministry official in Seoul said South Korean planes would do the same.

An official at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau said Japanese airlines flying through the region to non-mainland Chinese destinations would likely need to inform China of their plans. “Airlines have been advised to take greater care in the area,” said another bureau official.

Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd said they would keep Chinese authorities informed of their flights through the area.

Korean Air said its flight plans would be delivered to Chinese authorities but the routes its pilots took would not be affected. Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings also said the zone had not affected their flights.

China’s unilateral establishment of an air defense zone that overlaps areas claimed by Japan is a strong statement and one that raises the risk of possible miscalculation and escalation in the region.

The ADIZ declaration shows President Xi Jinping’s resolve to defend what China conceives to be its territorial integrity, including the integrity of lost territories. Over the last decade, populist nationalism in China has been fueled by an official narrative of humiliation at the hands of the West which began more than 100 years ago when Imperial China was defeated by Britain in the Opium War of 1840-1842. Although Chinese nationalist passions have been tempered by adherence to Deng Xiaoping’s “hide and bide” policy of strategic restraint, recent demonstrations of Chinese military power and increasingly bellicose rhetoric would suggest that Xi Jinping may be prepared to overlook this policy.

Japan has already lodged a strong protest over what it said was an “escalation” by China.

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The Republic of China on Taiwan, which also claims the islands, expressed regret at Beijing’s move and promised that its military would take measures to protect Taiwan’s national security.

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~Dr. C

Dr. C is the Editor of Consortium of Defense Analysts.