China said yesterday it has begun issuing warnings to foreign military planes entering its self-declared air defense zone over the East China Sea amid heightened tensions with its neighbors, especially Japan.
Chinese state media quoted air force spokesman Shen Jinke (沈金科) as saying several kinds of Chinese planes recently patrolled the sweeping zone that was declared in November.
He said the planes identified several foreign military aircraft, flew alongside them and issued warnings. He did not identify the planes or say when the patrol was conducted.
The zone is a “purely defensive measure that conforms to international practice,” Shen said.
The US, Japan and other countries denounced the zone’s declaration in November as provocative and said they would ignore China’s demands that their military aircraft announce flight plans, identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions. China has said it would take unspecified measures against aircraft that disobey.
In a policy address yesterday in Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated Japan’s position, saying it would “not tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force.”
He said Japan would beef up its defensive capabilities “in order to defend the safety in the southwestern region, as well as the vast sea and airspace around Japan.”
Meanwhile, Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga told reporters that he was aware of reports that China had issued warnings to foreign aircraft, but declined to confirm them.
“I don’t understand what China means by voice-warning,” Suga said.
Japan’s defense ministry has not reported any “abnormal flights” by Chinese military jets since Beijing declared its air zone, he said.
The zone is seen primarily as targeting Japanese and US military flights over the East China Sea. Its declaration followed more than a year of heightened tensions between China and Japan over control of a series of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The zone pointedly incorporates the islands — known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) in Chinese — which are also claimed by Taiwan.
The zone also incorporates a vast area of international airspace from Taiwan to the Korean Peninsula and overlaps in places with zones enforced by South Korea and Japan.