China Scrambles Jets for First Time in New Air Zone

Jane Perlez — New York Times Nov 29, 2013

China’s Air Force scrambled jets on Friday and identified two American surveillance planes, and 10 Japanese aircraft, over the new air defense zone established by China over disputed islands in the East China Sea, the Chinese state news media said.

The scrambling of the jets was the first move announced by China that it was enforcing the air defense zone, which it established last weekend. China said at the time that foreign planes flying into the zone would be subject to military action if they did not present prior notification.

The American planes identified by the Chinese jets on Friday were a P-3 and an EP-3, said Col. Shen Jinke, a spokesman for China’s Air Force, according to Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

The Chinese account said the 10 Japanese aircraft were of three types of military models. It named the E-767, an airborne warning and control system aircraft, the P-3 surveillance aircraft and the F-15 jet fighter, but did not say how many planes of each type.

A version of the EP-3 surveillance aircraft was involved in a major diplomatic incident between China and the United States in 2001 when an American EP-3 collided with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot was killed, and the American plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island in southern China, an accident that badly damaged relations.

On Friday, under questioning from reporters asking for clarification of China’s intentions regarding the new air zone, the spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, said, “The Air Defense Identification Zone does not equal territorial airspace, and is not an expansion of a country’s territorial airspace.”

The spokesman also said, “Aircraft of all countries, including commercial aircraft, carrying out normal flight according to international law will not be affected.”

The creation of the “air defense identification zone” by Beijing ratcheted up the tense relations between China and Japan, a treaty ally of the United States, and drew harsh criticism from Washington.

Many countries, including the United States and Japan, have air defense zones, but the coordinates of the Chinese zone overlap with parts of the Japanese zone, setting up what defense experts have called a provocative and dangerous situation in the airspace above the disputed islands.

The United States immediately challenged the new air zone and the threat of military action by dispatching two unarmed B-52 bombers into the zone on Monday without giving notice to China. The Chinese took no action, saying only that they had monitored the B-52s.

Mr. Qin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, brushed aside questions about Japanese criticism of China’s air defense zone.

“Would the Japanese side tell other countries, does it have an A.D.I.Z.?” Mr. Qin said. “Has it negotiated with other countries while it established and enlarged its A.D.I.Z.? How large is its A.D.I.Z.?”

An American expert on air defense identification zones said Japanese aircraft would not be deterred from flying in the airspace above the disputed islands, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan. The islands are administered by Japan, but both countries claim them as sovereign territory.

The expert, Peter Dutton, the director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said that because Japan regards the airspace above the islands as national airspace, they would continue air patrols.

“Japan must continue to enforce its sovereignty or they could lose it to Chinese pressure,” Mr. Dutton said.

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