China declared an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea amid a territorial dispute with Japan, warning its armed forces will take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft fail to comply.
A map, details of the zone’s coordinates and rules governing the area were posted on the Ministry of Defense’s website today, along with a question and answer statement from Yang Yajun, a ministry spokesman. Japan’s Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint with China over the zone.
The move risks heightening tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies, which are in dispute over the ownership of islets known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. The islands lie inside the zone and both nations claim sovereignty over the surrounding waters, which are rich in oil, natural gas and fish.
“This is a necessary measure taken by China in exercising its self-defense right,” Yang said, according to the English-language statement. “It is not directed against any specific country or target. It does not affect the freedom of over-flight in the related airspace.”
Junichi Ihara, the director-general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, protested to the minister at China’s embassy in Tokyo by phone, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement. Ihara told the minister Japan “absolutely cannot accept” the establishment of the zone covering the Senkaku islands, which he said “are Japanese territory.”
The No. 2 at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and the Japanese defense attache also made protests to China’s Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, an embassy official, who asked not to be identified in line with policy, said in a telephone interview.
They told Chinese officials that the action was dangerous, could escalate the situation surrounding the islands and lead to an unpredictable situation, he said.
The regulations governing the zone were effective as of 10 a.m. Beijing time today, according to the Defense Ministry, which didn’t specify what measures might be taken against aircraft that don’t cooperate with identification requirements or follow its instructions.
The rules include reporting flight plans to China’s Foreign Ministry or civil aviation authorities，and providing radio and logo identification of aircraft, the Defense Ministry said.
The Chinese air force conducted its first patrol inside the zone today, comprising two reconnaissance planes with fighter jets and early-warning aircraft in support, the ministry said in a separate statement.
The announcement of the zone follows a decision by China’s Communist Party leaders last week to form a state committee to better coordinate security issues as the country expands its military reach and faces growing dissent at home.
Many countries, including Japan and the U.S., enforce ADIZs, airspace where the identification, location and control of aircraft are required in the interest of national security. More than 20 countries, including some of China’s neighbors, have stipulated such zones since the 1950s, Yang said, adding that the Chinese government’s action is in line with international laws and customs.
The easternmost point of the East China Sea zone “is so close to China that combat aircraft can soon reach China’s territorial airspace from the point,” Yang said. “Therefore it is necessary for China to identify any aircraft from this point to assess its intentions and examine its identity so as to allow enough early-warning time for responsive measures in maintaining air security.”
“Normal” flights by international airlines in the zone “will not be affected in any way,” Yang said.
The ministry published a map that places the disputed islands within the identification zone, which includes airspace within six latitude/longitude points: 3311’N and 12147’E, 3311’N and 12500’E, 3100’N and 12820’E, 2538’N and 12500’E, 2445’N and 12300’E, 2644’N and 12058’E.
Tensions between China and Japan over the disputed islands were heightened this month after a retired Chinese military commander warned that any attack by Japan on China’s drones would represent the “first shot” of a war. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has approved a plan to shoot down any foreign drones that enter Japanese airspace, Kyodo News said last month.
China successfully conducted a test flight of its first stealth combat drone, the Beijing Times reported yesterday, citing an unidentified witness to the flight.
Since the Japanese government bought three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012，patrol boats from the two countries have tailed one another through the area and the row has damaged trade and tourism ties. Top-level political contact has ground to a halt.
Last month, Abe said he wouldn’t permit China to use force to resolve territorial spats and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces said fighter jets were sent out after Chinese aircraft flew between its southern islands without entering Japanese air space.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy, is also involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam. Yang said China will establish more ADIZs “at the right time after necessary preparations are completed.”
— With assistance by Nerys Avery