Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday he would discuss China’s expansion of its air defense zone with US Vice President Joe Biden in Tokyo to coordinate their stance after apparently contradictory responses.
China raised regional tensions with its declaration last weekend of the zone, which covers islands in the East China Sea at the center of a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, and demands that aircraft submit flight plans when traversing the area.
Tokyo has instructed Japanese airlines not to submit flight plans to Beijing, but Washington said on Friday it generally expected US carriers to “operate consistent with” notification policies issued by foreign countries.
“We want to hold consultation with US Vice President Biden who will visit Japan this week and deal with the matter by coordinating closely between Japan and the US,” Abe said.
Biden is due to arrive in Tokyo late today for a 34-hour visit as part of his East Asian tour, which will also take him to China and South Korea.
The US Department of State statement was widely taken in Japan to mean Washington had effectively advised US airlines to comply with the Chinese demand.
However, Abe and Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said Washington had not explicitly requested US carriers to submit flight plans to Beijing.
“We have confirmed it through diplomatic channels,” Abe told reporters, according to the Jiji Press news agency.
Onodera, speaking on public broadcaster NHK, said: “The US government is taking the same stance with Japan” over the air defense zone.
“The US side has rather been quicker than Japan in responding to this issue. It has issued a strong message,” Onodera said.
China’s announcement on Nov. 23 that it was extending an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台群島) — known by Japan as the Senkaku Islands — was disregarded by several nations, and US B-52 bombers entered the area.
The Pentagon has indicated that US military forces would continue normal operations, despite China scrambling fighter jets to monitor US and Japanese aircraft in the zone.
Jiji said Abe and Onodera were possibly trying to deny any damaging difference between the allies over the air zone issue.
US airlines United, American and Delta have notified Chinese authorities of flight plans when traveling through an air defense zone Beijing has declared over the East China Sea, following US government advice.
On Friday, the US said it expected US carriers to operate in line with so-called notices to airmen issued by foreign countries, although it added that the decision did “not indicate US government acceptance of China’s requirements.”
A spokesman for Delta Airlines said it had been complying with the Chinese requests for flight plans for the past week. American and United said separately that they were complying, but did not say for how long they had been doing so.
Airline industry officials said the US government generally expected US carriers operating internationally to comply with notices issued by foreign countries.