November 24, 2013
Japan Rejects China’s Claim to Air Rights Over Islands
TOKYO — Japan’s foreign minister on Sunday refused to recognize China’s newly claimed air defense zone over disputed islands, signaling that Japan would not back down as tensions increased in the maritime dispute.
China on Saturday said its “air defense identification zone” would give it the right to identify and possibly take military action against aircraft near the islands in the East China Sea. The uninhabited islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
China’s announcement appeared to be the latest step in what analysts have called a strategy to chip away at Japan’s claims of control of the islands. Japan has long maintained a similar air defense zone over them.
The Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, called the Chinese declaration a dangerous escalation that could lead to what many military analysts most fear in the tense standoff: a miscalculation or accident that could set off an armed confrontation and drag the United States into the conflict.
“It was a one-sided action and cannot be allowed,” Mr. Kishida told reporters, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. It could also “trigger unpredictable events,” he warned.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly rejected Mr. Kishida’s objections. “The Japanese side’s irresponsible comments about China’s demarcation of an East China Sea air defense identification zone are totally wrong,” a spokesman for the ministry, Qin Gang, said in comments published on its website on Sunday.
In a statement on Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the American government viewed the Chinese move “as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.” He also reaffirmed that the United States would stand by its security treaty obligations to aid Japan if it were attacked.
For now, the United States and Japan appear to be trying to determine how serious China is about policing its newly declared zone, or whether the declaration is a political gesture to try to appease nationalist sentiments. However, it is equally unclear how Japan would respond if China tries to enforce it. Mr. Kishida did not say whether Japan would take any countermeasures, like increasing patrols in the airspace over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Mr. Qin dismissed criticisms from Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Hagel, and said the Chinese Foreign Ministry had complained to the American ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, about their remarks.
“The United States really should not take sides on the question of sovereignty over the Diaoyu islands,” Mr. Qin said.
In a sign of the heightened tensions, Japan’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that it had scrambled two F-15 fighter jets to intercept a pair of Chinese surveillance planes approaching the islands. It said the Chinese planes turned back without incident.
A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense accused Japan of using its defense zone to harass Chinese military planes.
“This is seriously impeding freedom of flight, and could very easily trigger a safety accident or unexpected incident,” said the spokesman, Col. Yang Yujun.
By setting up a competing air defense zone, China may be trying to show that its claim to the islands is as convincing as Japan’s, Japanese officials said. They said China appeared to have a similar objective last Thursday, when Chinese coast guard officers boarded a Chinese fishing boat near the islands.
When hailed by a Japanese coast guard vessel, the Chinese coast guard crew said it was monitoring fishing in Chinese waters, Japan’s coast guard said.