China’s neighbors Japan and South Korea have voiced concern about Beijing’s decision Saturday to suddenly announce the establishment of an air defense identification zone over disputed waters in the East China Sea.
China’s decision has escalated an already ongoing war of words over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo’s territorial claims overlap.
On Monday, Japan rejected the establishment of the zone and sharply criticized Beijing.
According to Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato, by creating the zone and forcing others to abide by it, China has changed the situation in the East China Sea. He said it could cause a dangerous and unpredictable situation.
South Korea also voiced concern noting that China unilaterally made the decision to establish the zone, which overlaps with its own air defense identification zone.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that as of now, South Korea will allow airplanes to pass through the zone without notifying China.
South Korea said it will raise the issue when the two countries hold previously scheduled talks later this week.
China announced the decision Saturday, noting that the policy would take effect immediately and that it would take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves.
Although U.S. officials were busily engaged in nuclear talks with Iran when the announcement came, the White House, State Department and Pentagon all released statements voicing their strong concern about the decision and the impact it could have on regional stability.
Japan has summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo over the announcement to protest the decision. China’s Foreign Ministry said it has done the same with the Japanese ambassador in Beijing, making representations over what it called Tokyo’s unreasonable manipulation of the announcement.
China said if Japan would stop blaming Beijing, it is willing to sit down and talk about the issue.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said there is no reason for Japan to make such irresponsible remarks about China’s decision. He said the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense and the Chinese embassy in Tokyo have all rejected Japan’s protests with regard to the air defense zone.
Beijing argued that just like other nations, it has the right to establish its own air defense identification zone. Chinese state media have noted that more than 20 countries have air defense zones, including Japan, which expanded its zone most recently in 2010.
Both China and Japan’s air defense zones include the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands as they are known in China. Japan annexed the islets in the late 19th century. China claimed sovereignty over the archipelago in 1971, saying ancient maps show it has been Chinese territory for centuries.
Wendell Minnick, Asia editor for Defense News said Beijing’s move is a response to Japan’s actions three years ago to expand its zone.
Coming on a weekend before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, Minnick said the move by Beijing was clearly calculated to catch Washington off guard. “China’s announcement appears to be an attempt to salami slice as they call it. China has a tendency to take territory or enforce new rules at a time when the U.S. is very friendly to them. The U.S. has been working very hard to improve military to military relations with China,” he stated.
Minnick said the overlap of the two air defense zones raises some challenges for both Tokyo and Washington. However, he said it remains to be seen just how much China engages with Japanese and American jets in the area.