US flies B-52 bombers into China's new air defense zone in East China Sea



This picture taken on March 5, 2003 shows U.S. B-52 bombers at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.


Mario Villafuerte

Two US B-52 bombers entered China’s newly claimed air defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea on Monday in a “direct challenge” to Beijing, various media reports said Tuesday. 

The Wall Street Journal said the planes entered the Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone at about 7 p.m. Washington time. They had flown from Guam.

US officials confirmed to the BBC that two US military aircraft had flown into the zone as "part of a regular exercise in the area."

"We have conducted operations in the area of the Senkakus," US Col. Steve Warren was quoted as saying. 

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China said Wednesday that it had "monitored" the aircraft's flight path and identified the planes involved. 

"China will identify all aircraft activity in East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone," a statement from the Chinese Defense Ministry said, according to the BBC. "China has the ability to effectively manage and control the relevant air zone."

Beijing declared Saturday its armed forces would take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft — military and commercial — entered the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves.

Unidentified Pentagon officials told The New York Times that Monday's flight mission had been planned long before China's weekend announcement. The US would continue to fly through what it regards as international air space, they said.

On Monday, the Pentagon made clear the US would not comply with Chinese demands for entering the expanded air defense zone.

“We will not in any way change how we conduct our operations,” Warren told reporters.

There were conflicting reports about whether Japanese airlines would obey China's demands. 

Some reports on Tuesday said All Nippon Airlines and Japan Airlines had said they would abide by a government request to stop filing flight plans on routes through the zone. But the Agence France-Presse said the two airlines had agreed to follow the rules set by China. 

Japan and the US have both condemned China’s move as a provocative escalation of the already tense dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over the chain of islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the new policy "escalates the situation and could lead to an unexpected occurrence of accidents in the airspace."

Australia on Tuesday summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey its concerns over the air-defense zone. 

"The timing and the manner of China's announcement are unhelpful in light of current regional tensions, and will not contribute to regional stability," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, called on China and Japan to end the dispute "amicably through dialogue and negotiations."

Observers fear the war of words between Beijing and Tokyo over the Japanese-controlled islands could tip over into a full-flown conflict if either side makes a military or political misstep.

Over the past year, Chinese ships have been sailing in and out of Japanese territorial waters, and Japan has scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese military aircraft flying into Japanese air space with alarming frequency.

In recent weeks, China accused Japan of “dangerous provocation” after a Japanese naval and air patrol got too close to a Chinese live ammunition drill. Beijing was left fuming after Japan placed missiles on the islands as part of a huge military drill.

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