BEIJING – The United States advised U.S. carriers to comply with China’s demand that it be told of any flights passing through its new maritime air defense zone over the East China Sea, an area where Beijing said it launched two fighter planes to investigate a dozen American and Japanese reconnaissance and military flights.
It was the first time since proclaiming the zone on Nov. 23 that China said it sent planes there on the same day as foreign military flights, although it said it merely identified the foreign planes and took no further action.
China announced last week that all aircraft entering the zone – a maritime area between China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan – must notify Chinese authorities beforehand and that it would take unspecified defensive measures against those that don’t comply. Neighboring countries and the U.S. have said they will not honor the new zone and have said it unnecessarily raises tensions.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that the U.S. remained deeply concerned about China’s declared air identification zone. But she said that it is advising U.S. air carriers abroad to comply with notification requirements issued by China.
In Beijing, the Ministry of Defense said the Chinese fighter jets identified and monitored the two U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and a mix of 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes during their flights through the zone early Friday.
“China’s air force has faithfully carried out its mission and tasks, with China’s navy, since it was tasked with patrolling the East China Sea air defense identification zone. It monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types,” ministry spokesman Col. Shen Jinke said in a statement.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said when asked about China’s statement, “The U.S. will continue to partner with our allies and will operate in the area as normal.”
The United States and other countries have warned that the new zone could boost chances for miscalculations, accidents and conflicts, though analysts believe Beijing’s move is not intended to spark any aerial confrontations but rather is a long-term strategy to solidify claims to disputed territory by simply marking the area as its own.
June Teufel Dreyer, who specializes in security issues at the University of Miami, said the Chinese government – while backing down from strictly enforcing the zone to keep a lid on tensions – is walking a delicate line because it is faced with strong public opinion from nationalists at home. Sending up the fighter planes Friday was aimed at the domestic audience, and China is likely to send planes regularly when foreign aircraft enter the zone without notifying Chinese authorities, she said.
“They will be ‘escorting’ the intruding planes, but they are not going to shoot them,” she said.