The Chinese military announced that they had scrambled fighter jets in their recently declared “air defense zone” over some disputed islands in the East China Sea in order to follow some US planes flying into the zone. The action comes on the heels of a US training mission that saw 2 B-52’s fly through the zone, ignoring China’s requirement that all planes flying through the area must file a flight plan with the military.
The US and Japan do not recognize the air defense zone as legitimate.
The ministry of defence announced the move, which is the first time China is known to have sent military aircraft into the zone alongside foreign flights, stepping up its response to the challenge after its unilateral establishment of the zone. It previously said it had monitored US, Japanese and South Korean aircraft and had flown routine patrols in the area on Thursday.
The ministry’s statement said two US reconnaissance aircraft and 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes had entered the zone.
The airforce “monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types”, defence ministry spokesman Shen Jinke told the official China News Service.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to the statement. Japanese officials declined to confirm details of any flights, saying that routine missions were continuing.
Late on Friday the US state department advised American commercial airlines to notify Chinese authorities of flight plans over the East China Sea. But a US administration official said that did not mean Washington accepted Beijing’s jurisdiction, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The US government generally expects that US carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with Notams [Notices to Airmen] issued by foreign countries,” the state department said in a statement.
“Our expectation of operations by US carriers consistent with Notams does not indicate US government acceptance of China’s requirements.”
The developments came as South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said officials were discussing how to expand its own air zone.
In Taiwan, legislators issued an unusual joint statement chiding Ma Ying-jeou’s government for its tempered response to China’s announcement of the zone and urging it to lodge a tough protest with Beijing. The government later said it would convey its “stern position”.
Earlier the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed its concern that the zone had contributed to tensions in the region, saying that the EU called on all sides to exercise caution and restraint.
What is China’s gambit? They’ve spent a lot of money over the last 10 years on their military — especially their navy. It could be they are flexing their muscle a bit while testing US resolve in the region.
This is certainly a more aggressive move by China than we’ve seen previously. While almost certainly not trying to start a war, it reflects the notion that China is an economic super power and that perhaps they should start acting like one militarily as well.