(Adds detail of Xi Jinping military base visit)
By Ben Blanchard and Roberta Rampton
BEIJING/WASHINGTON Nov 29 China sent several
fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into its new air
defence zone over the East China Sea, state news agency Xinhua
said on Friday, 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, the two countries said 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 China.
China last week announced that foreign aircraft passing
through its new air defence zone - including passenger planes -
would have to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. The
zone includes the skies over islands at the heart of a
territorial dispute between Japan and China.
The Chinese patrol mission, conducted on Thursday, was "a
defensive measure and in line with international common
practices", Xinhua cited air force spokesman Shen Jinke as
The aircraft, including Russian-designed Su-30 fighter jets,
conducted routine patrols and monitored targets in the zone,
"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," he said.
However, Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said it was
"incorrect" to suggest China would shoot down aircraft which
entered the zone without first identifying themselves. He did
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on
Friday he did not know if Chinese planes were in the zone but
added there was no change to Japan's sense of alertness.
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
U.S.-Japan security pact applies to them.
Europe's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said the European
Union is concerned about China's decision to establish the new
air defence zone as well as its announcement of "emergency
defence measures" if other parties do not comply.
"This development heightens the risk of escalation and
contributes to raising tensions in the region," Ashton said in a
statement. "The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang criticised
Ashton's remarks, saying China hoped the EU could treat the
situation "objectively and rationally".
"Actually, Madam Ashton should know that some European
countries also have air defense identification zones," Qin said.
"I don't know if this leads to tensions in the European
regional situation. European countries can have air defense
identification zones. Why can't China?"
When asked to clarify China's expectations for what
information airlines were expected to report, Qin said:
"International law does not have clear rules on what kind of
flight or airplane should apply", adding that each country makes
its own rules.
"Therefore, China's method does not violate international
law and accords with international practice."
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.
Although there are risks of a confrontation in the zone,
U.S. and Chinese military officials have stepped up
communication with each other in recent years and are in regular
contact to avoid accidental clashes.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is visiting China, Japan and
South Korea next week, and will try to ease tension over the
issue, senior U.S. administration officials said.
"We decline to comment on Chinese flights, but the United
States will continue to partner with our allies and operate in
the area as normal," a Pentagon spokesman said.
China's Defence Ministry has said that it was aware of the
U.S., Japanese and South Korean military aircraft in the zone
and had tracked them all.
Ties between China and Japan, often tense, have increasingly
been frayed in recent years by regional rivalry, mutual mistrust
over military intentions and what China feels is Japan's lack of
contrition over its brutal occupation of part of China before
and during World War Two.
In a show of support to the military, Chinese President Xi
Jinping visited a base in Jinan in eastern China, where he said
"military training is critical to beef up the PLA's war
capacities", according to the Xinhau news agency.
Xi did not make direct mention of the East China Sea air
"Though life is becoming better, history can't be forgotten
and those who made sacrifices for (the) new China's founding
must be remembered," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying in a separate
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.
"If the trend continues, there will likely be frictions and
confrontations and even a collision in the air ... It is
therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air
force to make full preparation for potential conflicts," it
wrote in an editorial on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and Sui-Lee
Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Raju