ANA Holdings Inc. (9202) and Japan Airlines Co. (9201), the country’s two biggest carriers, said they would stop reporting flight plans for planes traveling through a new Chinese air-defense zone that Japan rejects.
Japan’s government told airlines to stop providing that information, citing China’s “false” impositions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday in Tokyo. Hours later, ANA and JAL said they wouldn’t comply with China’s demands, reversing their decision to supply that data.
China’s creation of the zone has been denounced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and marks one of the most serious escalations in tensions since September 2012, when Japan bought three disputed islands in the East China Sea. The islands lie within the defense zone and China has threatened “defensive emergency measures” against unidentified planes there.
“Presumably the Chinese are not going to be trigger happy,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum CSIS, a foreign-policy research institute. “It certainly raises the concern about regularly scheduled flights.”
ANA and JAL said they would halt the sharing of the flight-plan data starting today, spokesmen said by phone. The carriers shifted their stance on instructions from Japan’s airline trade group, which acted as an intermediary between the airlines and Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau, Maho Ito, an ANA spokeswoman, said by telephone.
China’s action may escalate the situation and lead to unforeseen events, Abe told a parliamentary committee, saying that he was very concerned. “We urge China to revoke this measure, which is in no way binding on Japan.”
The U.S. won’t change its military flight operations to comply with the new air-defense zone, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Colonel Steve Warren, told journalists in Washington. The U.S. and Japan may deploy unmanned drone aircraft to the area to respond to the Chinese move, the Nikkei newspaper reported without citing anyone.
Even if commercial flights through the defense zone comply with the Chinese demands, the establishment of the security perimeter raises the threat of incidents, such as the shoot-down of a Korean Air Lines Co. jumbo jet in 1983 when it strayed into the airspace of the former Soviet Union, Cossa said.
The disputed islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, lie inside the new air defense zone. Both nations claim sovereignty over the area, whose waters are rich in oil, natural gas and fish. The dispute comes as China and Japan seek a greater role in the region, courting nations in Southeast Asia.
“While our central scenario remains for the situation to stay on the rhetorical level, the risk of actual incidents is on the rise,” Dariusz Kowalczyk, a Hong Kong-based strategist at Credit Agricole CIB, wrote in a research report.
The information that ANA had been supplying to China was the same shared with other countries, according to Ryosei Nomura, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based carrier. The data included planes’ route, and cruising altitude and flight time, Nomura said.
Other countries’ carriers are awaiting government guidance.
“There has been no change to our operations,” said Lee Hyo Min, a spokeswoman for Seoul-based Asiana Airlines Inc. (020560) “We have not yet provided any flight plans to China on services that pass through the zone because there has been no guideline from the government. We will make change if and when the government revises this guidelines.”
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. (293), the Hong Kong-based carrier, said its flight operations are normal. The creation of the zone hasn’t affected operations of commercial flights so far, the International Air Transport Association said in an e-mailed response to Bloomberg News.
“Some airlines have had to take some extra steps at the moment, such as filing flight plans manually,” IATA said. “We are trying to get more details from the Chinese authorities to clarify ongoing operational requirements.”
The announcement of the zone follows a decision by Communist Party leaders this month, after a meeting led by President Xi Jinping, to form a state committee to coordinate security issues as China broadens its military reach.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, departed on an exercise in the South China Sea yesterday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. China has a longstanding territorial dispute with the Philippines in the area over the Scarborough Shoal.
China is “resolute in its will and resolve” to defend its sovereignty over the islands, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing on Nov. 25. The current situation is “totally caused” by Japan’s “erroneous actions,” Qin said.
Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Nov. 25 that the zone infringes on the principles of international law. He said that planes entering Japan’s own air defense identification zone are required to identify themselves.
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