China Jets Fly Over Air Defense Zone as Japan Seeks Calm

China sent planes over a new air defense zone off its eastern coast for a second day, asserting Communist Party leaders’ determination to enforce control over the area after challenges from the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

The Chinese planes were deployed in the zone off the country’s eastern coast and identified Japanese aircraft in the area, China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website. Yesterday, Chinese planes entered the area on normal patrols, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Criticism from the U.S., Japan and South Korea has distracted from President Xi Jinping’s agenda two weeks after the Communist Party announced sweeping economic and social reforms. China indicated it won’t demand civilian airliners identify themselves in the zone, reflecting a softer tone that may be an effort to defuse a standoff over the area.

“It’s not in China’s interests to keep pushing this and the U.S. doesn’t want to keep pushing back,” said James McGregor, a Beijing-based former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “They’ll try to tone it down.”

China said it “hoped” civilian airliners would comply with rules for the zone, a step back from tougher language used when it was set up Nov. 23. The U.S., Japan and South Korea have all previously said they sent planes into the area.

Rising Tensions

The rising tensions have boosted demand for insurance against default on China’s debt. Credit-default swaps on Chinese bonds rose to 68 on Nov. 27 from 64, the least since March, on Nov. 22 in New York, CMA prices show.

Today’s Chinese Defense Ministry statement said its planes also identified U.S. aircraft, without specifying whether they entered the air defense zone.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today that he would respond to China’s air zone in a “calm, assured manner.” Japan and the U.S. plan to step up air surveillance in the East China Sea, with Japan stationing E-2C airborne early warning aircraft at the Naha base in the Okinawa region and expanding the use of unmanned Global Hawk aircraft, the Yomiuri newspaper reported today, without citing anyone.

China’s new zone partly overlaps with ones created by Japan and South Korea and covers islands claimed by the Chinese and Japanese governments. In a call Nov. 27 with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it a “potentially destabilizing unilateral action,” according to a Pentagon statement.

South Korea

South Korea is considering expanding its own air defense zone in response to China’s move, Wee Yong Sub, spokesman for the Defense Ministry said today in Seoul. South Korea has also flown surveillance flights over the area without notifying China. The U.S. sent two unarmed B-52 bombers through the disputed zone this week without advance notice.

Shen described the Chinese flights as “a defensive measure and in line with international common practices,” according to Xinhua. He said the air force will stay on high alert to protect the country’s airspace.

The decision to set up the zone came after party leaders held a four-day meeting, known as the Third Plenum, where they agreed on reforms such as easing the nation’s family-planning policy and giving the market a more decisive role in the economy.

The meeting of the party’s Central Committee, which ended Nov. 12, also vowed to deepen reform of defense and the armed forces, according to a document detailing the decisions. In China’s political hierarchy, the military answers to the Communist Party and to Xi, who leads the party and its Central Military Commission.

Placate Public

The announcement of the air defense zone may be an effort by Chinese leaders to placate the public as they seek to push through economic reforms, according to Alastair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura International Plc.

“We have structural reform proposals from the third plenum,” Newton told Bloomberg TV. “Those issues cause domestic pain and people get laid off work and nationalism is a known lightning conductor for when there are tensions internally in Chinese society.”

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson, and Andrew Davis

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