BEIJING Feb 27 China said on Thursday any
decision to set up new air defence identification zones would
depend on the level of threat it faced in the air, following
speculation it wants one for the disputed South China Sea.
China alarmed Japan, South Korea and the United States last
year when it announced an air defence identification zone for
the East China Sea, covering a group of uninhabited islands at
the centre of a bitter ownership spat between China and Japan.
Concern has grown since in Washington and Asian capitals
that Beijing plans one for the South China Sea, where China is
engaged in territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines,
Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Asked if China did plan such a zone for the South China Sea,
Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a monthly news
conference that China, as a sovereign nation, had every right to
set them up.
"But whether or not to set up an air defence identification
zone depends on the level of threat faced to security in the
air, and all sorts of factors have to be considered," Yang said,
in comments on the ministry's website.
"What needs stressing is that China has confidence that the
general situation in the South China Sea and China's relations
with countries surrounding it are stable."
China, which is swiftly ramping up military spending, has
regularly dispatched patrols to the East China Sea since it
established the defence zone.
The United States, Europe and Japan have criticised China's
air defence zone, saying its establishment last November was
provocative and exacerbates tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.
Yang blamed "right-wing Japanese forces" for cooking up
stories that China had such plans for the South China Sea.
"Their aim is to distract international attention, and they
have hidden intentions," he added.
Deteriorating Sino-Japan relations have been fuelled by the
row over the chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around
the islets, raising fears of a clash.
Ties have worsened since China's creation of the air defence
identification zone over the East China Sea and Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe's December visit to the controversial
Yasukuni Shrine honouring war criminals among Japan's war dead.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Li Hui; Editing by Clarence