China does not feel threatened by countries in Southeast Asia and is optimistic about the situation in the disputed South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, warning Japan not to “spread rumors” it plans a new air defense identification zone.
China alarmed Japan, South Korea and the US last year when it announced an air defense identification zone for the East China Sea, covering a group of uninhabited islands at the center of a bitter ownership spat between China and Japan.
Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun on Friday said China was considering setting up a similar zone — where foreign aircraft are supposed to report their movements to China — in the South China Sea, prompting the US Department of State to warn against such a move.
In a statement released late on Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry implied there was no need for such a zone in the South China Sea, where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims.
“Generally speaking, China does not feel there is an air security threat from ASEAN countries,” the ministry said.
“China feels optimistic about relations with countries surrounding the South China Sea and the general situation in the South China Sea,” the ministry said, adding it believed prospects for ties with ASEAN were “bright.”
While the ministry said China had a right to set up air defense identification zones that nobody should criticize, it criticized Japan for attempting to distract attention from its own military plans.
“Right-wing forces in Japan have again been hyping up so-called plans that China will shortly set up an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, which is purely to try and distract international attention, to cover up their conspiracy to ... expand their military,” the ministry said.
“We warn these forces not to delude people with rumors for their own selfish interests and play up tensions, and hope the relevant party talks and acts cautiously,” it added.
Ties have been strained by a recent visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a controversial shrine for war dead, China’s East China Sea air defense zone and the long-running dispute over a string of islets that Taiwan, Japan and China claim — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japanese and the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in Chinese.
China, which is swiftly ramping up military spending, has regularly dispatched patrols to the East China Sea since it established the defense zone.
The Japan Coast Guard yesterday said that Chinese ships sailed through disputed waters off the Tokyo-controlled islands.
Three Chinese coastguard vessels spent more than two hours in the 12-nautical-mile (22.2km) territorial waters off one of the Senkaku Islands, it said.
They left the waters at about 12:30pm, it said.
China’s State Oceanic Administration said three of its coastguard ships were patrolling “territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands” yesterday, according to Xinhua news agency.