China establishes air defense zone
SEOUL — China said on Saturday that noncommercial aircraft entering a broad zone over the East China Sea must first identify themselves to Beijing, at the risk of facing “defensive emergency measures” by Chinese armed forces.
China's establishment of a so-called air defense identification zone, announced by its Ministry of National Defense, adds a new dimension to the simmering territorial dispute with Japan and raises the odds of armed conflict.
The eight uninhabited islands at the center of that dispute fall within China's new aerial zone. Based on guidelines that China's Defense Ministry released on Saturday, any Japanese aircraft flying around those islands would need to submit flight plans to China's Foreign Ministry or civil aviation administration. Crews would need to maintain radio communication with Chinese authorities.
China did not detail measures it would take against aircraft that disobey, but defense experts say its military could scramble jets or even shoot down planes it views as a threat.
Later on Saturday, the country's air force conducted its first air patrol after the establishment of the new zone, with two large scouts leading the mission and early-warning aircraft and fighters providing support and cover, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
“The patrol is in line with international common practices, and normal international flights will not be affected,” said Shen Jinke, spokesman for the air force.
Numerous countries, including the United States and Japan, have air defense identification zones of their own. The zones are established to help countries track or monitor aircraft nearing their territories, but in this case, the zones of Japan and China overlap. Security experts worry that China's new zone could increase the likelihood of a mishap that sparks a wider armed conflict, drawing in the United States, which is treaty-bound to protect Japan.