BEIJING: China said it launched two fighter planes Friday to investigate flights by a dozen U.S. and Japanese reconnaissance and military planes in its new maritime air defense zone over the East China Sea.
It was the first time since proclaiming the zone on Nov. 23 that China said it sent planes there on the same day as foreign military flights, although it said it merely identified the foreign planes and took no further action.
China announced last week that all aircraft entering the zone — a maritime area between China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — must notify Chinese authorities beforehand and that it would take unspecified defensive measures against those that don’t comply.
Neighboring countries and the United States have said they will not honor the new zone — believed aimed at claiming disputed territory — and have said it unnecessarily raises tensions.
The Ministry of Defense said the Chinese fighter jets identified and monitored the two U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and a mix of 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes during their flights through the zone early Friday.
“China’s air force has faithfully carried out its mission and tasks, with China’s navy, since it was tasked with patrolling the East China Sea air defense identification zone. It monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types,” ministry spokesman Col. Shen Jinke said in a news release on its website.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said when asked about China’s news release, “The U.S. will continue to partner with our allies and will operate in the area as normal.”
Japanese officials declined to confirm details of any flights, but said routine missions in the area were continuing.
“We are simply conducting our ordinary warning and surveillance activity like before. We have not encountered any abnormal instances so far, therefore we have not made any announcement,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo.
The United States and other countries have warned that the new zone could boost chances for miscalculations, accidents and conflicts, though analysts believe Beijing’s move is not intended to spark any aerial confrontations but rather is a long-term strategy to solidify claims to disputed territory by simply marking the area as its own.