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China sends warplanes to new air defense zone amid tensions

 

Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun takes a question from the press at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Asianewsphoto

China has sent warplanes into its newly declared maritime air defense zone Thursday over the East China Sea after US, Japan and South Korea all sent their military aircrafts through the area.
 
Planes from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force conducted normal air patrols in the recently established East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), according to the air force spokesman Shen Jinke.
 
Shen said that several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft carried out the patrol mission, which he described as "a defensive measure and in line with international common practices."
 
According to Shen, China's air force will remain on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country's airspace.
 
Japanese and South Korean aircraft flew through the airspace without informing China, officials said on Thursday, challenging the new Chinese air defence zone that has increased regional tensions and sparked concerns of an unintended clash.
 
China rejected South Korea's demand for the repeal of the zone but appeared to soften its demand that commercial aircraft tell its military authorities of any plans to pass through the area. Japan's two biggest airlines have already begun defying that order.
 
"This has already increased the risk [that the situation] will escalate from confrontation to conflict," said Shi Yinhong, an expert on international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
 
"I think China will take flexible measures towards any aeroplane that flies over the zone, and that will still be compatible with China's declarations," he added.
 
"America is not our direct enemy, and South Korea is our friend. But Japanese armed aircraft would be a different story. If they dare to come into China's declared zone, the Chinese air force will take action."
 
'Extensive patrol not necessary'
 
Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a news conference on Thursday that Tokyo, which asked Beijing to cancel its zone, set up its own air defense zone in 1969.
 
More than 20 countries, including the United States and Japan, have established such zones.
 
"If they want China to cancel the zone, then we would ask that Japan first revoke its own zone. Japan consistently blames others and smears the name of other countries but never examines its own conduct," Yang said.
 
Japan will unveil its updated long-term defense policy next month, which calls for stronger air and maritime surveillance capabilities, citing threats from China.
 
Gary Li, a Beijing-based senior analyst with consulting group IHS Aerospace, Defence and Maritime, told Reuters he does not believe People's Liberation Army planes will patrol extensively in the defense zone.
 
"I think it will be more a case of China flying enough planes to make a point — it is quite a strain on any force to maintain some kind of 24-hour presence in the air," he said.
 
"It must be remembered that this is not a no-fly zone — China doesn't have to operate extensive patrols to make its presence felt."
 
China announced the zone at the weekend, prompting criticism from Japan and the US. Some experts said it was aimed not only at chipping away at Tokyo's control of Diaoyu Islands, but also at challenging US dominance in the region. On Tuesday the US flew two unarmed B-52 bombers over the islands without informing Beijing.
 
"The East China Sea air defence identification zone is not aimed at normal international flights," said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang. "We hope that relevant countries' airlines can proactively co-operate so there is more order and safety for flights."

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