China scrambles jets to new defense zone, eyes U.S., Japan flights

China scrambles jets to new defense zone, eyes U.S., Japan flights
# 30 November 2013 00:04 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. China scrambled jets on Friday in response to two U.S. spy planes and 10 Japanese aircraft, including F-15 fighters, entering its new air defense zone over the East China Sea, state news agency Xinhua said, raising the stakes in a standoff with the United States, Japan and South Korea, APA reports quoting Reuters.

The jets were scrambled for effective monitoring, Xinhua cited air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying. The report gave no further details.

Japan and South Korea flew military aircraft through the zone, which includes the skies over islands at the heart of a territorial dispute between Japan and China, the two countries said on Thursday, while Washington sent two unarmed B-52 bombers into the airspace earlier this week in a sign of support for its ally Japan. None of those aircraft informed China.

The Pentagon has declined to offer specifics on any additional U.S. flights and it neither confirmed nor denied the Chinese report of two U.S. spy aircraft entering the zone.

One U.S. defense official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said only the U.S. military was still flying routine missions in the region, including reconnaissance and surveillance flights.

Xinhua earlier said China had sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into the new air defense zone.

China last week announced that foreign aircraft passing through it - including passenger planes - would have to identify themselves to Chinese authorities.

The Chinese patrol mission, conducted on Thursday, was "a defensive measure and in line with international common practices", Xinhua reported Shen as saying.

The aircraft, including Russian-designed Su-30 fighter jets, conducted routine patrols and monitored targets in the zone, Shen said.

"China's air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country's airspace," he said.

However, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said it was "incorrect" to suggest China would shoot down aircraft which entered the zone without first identifying themselves. He did not elaborate.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Friday he did not know if Chinese planes were in the zone but added there was no change to Japan's sense of alertness.

Ties between China and Japan have been strained for months by the dispute over the islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. Washington takes no position on the sovereignty of the islands but recognizes Tokyo's administrative control and says the U.S.-Japan security pact applies to them.

Europe's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said the European Union was concerned about China's decision to establish the new air defense zone as well as its announcement of "emergency defense measures" if other parties did not comply.

"This development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region," Ashton said. "The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and restraint."