At a briefing in Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said the quiet reaction to what was a clear test by the United States of the new zone was “in accordance” with the rules announced by the Chinese Defense Ministry. China’s response to foreign aircraft in the new zone would depend on “how big the threat” was, the spokesman said.
Japan’s main civilian airlines also disregarded the new defense zone Wednesday, flying through the airspace claimed by China without notifying the Beijing authorities.
Tensions in the region have escalated since Beijing published a map of a new “air defense identification zone” on Saturday that overlapped with an air defense zone of its archrival, Japan, increasing the possibility of an encounter between Japanese and Chinese aircraft and heightening the dispute over islands in the East China Sea that both countries claim.
The Chinese declaration brought the United States, a treaty ally of Japan, directly into the dispute when Washington dispatched the B-52 bombers to the area overnight Monday.
The abrupt declaration by China of its air defense zone unnerved Asian countries and was criticized by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan as a “dangerous attempt” to change the status quo in the East China Sea by coercion.
China said it would require foreign aircraft flying through the zone to identify themselves or face possible military interception. The Pentagon said the B-52 bombers, which took off from Guam, were on a long-planned exercise, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that Washington had no intention of changing its procedures by notifying China of United States Air Force flights through the zone.
The Chinese Ministry of Defense, which released the coordinates of the new zone, said Wednesday that it had monitored the flight path of the two B-52 bombers and noted that they flew about 125 miles east of the Diaoyu Islands from 11 a.m. to 1:22 p.m. on Tuesday. The disputed islands in the East China Sea are known as the Diaoyu by China and as the Senkaku by Japan.
“China has the ability to implement effective management and control of the airspace,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.