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Monday 11 December 2017

Japan, S Korea defy China air zone

China's self-declared air defence zone in the East China Sea has been defied by Japan and South Korea (AP/Ng Han Guan)
China's self-declared air defence zone in the East China Sea has been defied by Japan and South Korea (AP/Ng Han Guan)

South Korean and Japanese planes have flown through China's new maritime air defence zone in a new act of international defiance to rules Beijing says it has imposed in the East China Sea.

While China's surprise announcement last week to create the zone initially raised some tensions in the region, analysts say Beijing's motive is not to trigger an aerial confrontation but is a more long-term strategy to solidify claims to disputed territory by simply marking the area as its own.

China's lack of a response so far to the flights - including two US B-52s that flew through the zone on Tuesday - has been an embarrassment for Beijing. Even some Chinese state media outlets suggested that Beijing may have mishandled the episodes.

"Beijing needs to reform its information release mechanism to win the psychological battles waged by Washington and Tokyo," the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily, said.

Without notice, Beijing began demanding that passing aircraft identify themselves and accept Chinese instructions or face consequences in an East China Sea zone that overlaps a similar air defence identification zone overseen by Japan since 1969 and initially part of one set up by the US military.

But when tested just days later by US B-52 flights - with Washington saying it made no effort to comply with China's rules, and would not do so in the future - Beijing merely noted, belatedly, that it had seen the flights and taken no further action.

South Korea's military said on Thursday its planes flew through the zone this week without informing China and with no apparent interference. Japan also said its planes have continued to fly through it after the Chinese announcement, while the Philippines, locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with Beijing over South China Sea islands, said it also was rejecting China's declaration.

Analysts question China's technical ability to enforce the zone due to a shortage of early warning radar aircraft and in-flight refuelling capability. However, many believe that China has a long-term plan to win recognition for the zone with a gradual ratcheting-up of warnings and possibly also eventual enforcement action.

The zone is seen primarily as China's latest bid to bolster its claim over a string of uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea - known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Beijing has been ratcheting up its sovereignty claims since Tokyo's privatisation of the islands last year.

But some experts say the decision to impose zone was likely to have been triggered by Japan's threat last month to shoot down drones that China says it will send to the islands for mapping expeditions.

AP

Press Association

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