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Sunday 19 November 2017

China monitored US bomber flights

China has admitted allowing US B52 bombers to fly through its newly-declared airspace
China has admitted allowing US B52 bombers to fly through its newly-declared airspace

China has admitted letting two American B-52 bombers fly through its newly declared air defence zone in the East China Sea despite its earlier threat to take action against unidentified foreign aircraft.

The US flights, which tested the Chinese zone for the first time since it was declared over the weekend, raised questions about Beijing's determination to enforce its requirement that foreign aircraft identify themselves and accept Chinese instructions.

China's lack of any action suggested that it was merely playing out a diplomatic game to establish ownership over the area rather than provoke an international incident.

The flights followed days of angry rhetoric and accusations over Beijing's move, designed to assert Beijing's claim to a group of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan.

The US and Japan have said they do not acknowledge the zone, and Taiwan and South Korea, both close to the US, also rejected it.

The Chinese Defence Ministry said the US planes were detected and monitored as they flew through the area for two hours and 22 minutes. It said all aircraft flying through the zone would be monitored and that "China has the capability to exercise effective control over the relevant airspace."

Asked about the incident at a regularly scheduled briefing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said it had been handled according to procedures but offered no specifics.

"Different situations will be dealt with according to that statement," he said.

The US, which has hundreds of military aircraft based in the region, described the flights as a training mission unrelated to China's announcement of the zone. US officials said the two unarmed B-52 bombers took off from their home base in Guam around midday and were in the zone that encompasses the disputed islands for less than an hour before returning to their base, adding the aircraft encountered no problems.

The bomber flights came after the State Department said China's move appeared to be an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

Beijing's move fits a pattern of putting teeth behind its territorial claims and is seen as potentially leading to dangerous encounters depending on how vigorously China enforces it - and how cautious it is when intercepting aircraft from Japan, the US and other countries.

Chinese reaction to the bomber flights was predictably angry, with some recalling the 2001 collision between a Chinese fighter and a US surveillance plane in international airspace off China's south-eastern coast - the kind of accident some fear China's new policy could make more likely. The Chinese pilot, Wang Wei, was killed in the crash and the US crew forced to make a landing on China's Hainan island, where they were held for 10 days and repeatedly interrogated before being released.

-AP

Press Association

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