November 28, 2013 in Nation/World

China downplays U.S. flights in disputed airspace

Barbara Demick McClatchy-Tribune
 

BEIJING – China on Wednesday played down a U.S. challenge to its newly created air defense zone in the East China Sea, saying two American B-52 bombers that transited the area “were monitored the whole time and identified.”

“China has the ability to implement effective control over the airspace,” Geng Yansheng, a Defense Ministry spokesman, told reporters.

Tuesday’s flight of the B-52s over a disputed island chain rattled the Chinese military, openly flouting the rules of the new air defense zone, in which planes are required to give Chinese officials advance notice of flight plans over the area.

In open defiance of Beijing, the U.S. aircraft flew out of Guam and entered the new “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” Pentagon officials said Tuesday. China made no response, they said. The Air Force bases B-52 bombers in Guam, but Pentagon officials would not comment on the type of bomber used in the overflight.

“As part of a long-planned training mission, two unarmed military aircraft transited airspace near the Senkaku islands,” Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email. “The training sortie was uneventful. This training sortie was part of our continued bomber presence in the region.”

Before the flights, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that the military would not comply with China’s demands while flying over what the U.S. considers international waters and airspace.

Japanese commercial airlines, which initially promised to give their flight plans in advance to China, reversed their decision on Wednesday on instruction from their government, which said informing the Chinese would be tantamount to accepting the new zone.

Air Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines flew passenger jets Wednesday from Japan to Taipei, passing through the zone.

More than 20 countries have similar air defense identification zones, including Japan and the United States, but China’s has provoked widespread condemnation because it includes territory it does not currently control.


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