The Philippines expressed concern Thursday that China may seek control of air space over contested areas of the South China Sea, after Beijing declared an air defense zone above other disputed waters.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said China’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea on the weekend raised the prospect of it doing the same for the South China Sea.
“There’s this threat that China will control the air space [in the South China Sea],” del Rosario said in an interview on ABS-CBN television.
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the strategically vital and potentially resource-rich South China Sea.
China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the sea, even waters and islands close to its neighbors.
China has been steadily increasing its military and coast guard presence in the sea in recent years to assert its claim, causing diplomatic tensions to rise and stoking concerns in the Philippines about perceived Chinese bullying.
Del Rosario also voiced concern over China’s declaration of the air defense zone in the East China Sea, where it is embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan.
“It transforms an entire air zone into China’s domestic air space. And that is an infringement, and compromises the safety of civil aviation,” del Rosario said.
“It also compromises the national security of affected states.”
The air defense zone requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face “emergency defensive measures.”
The zone covers Tokyo-controlled islands—known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China—where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said the setting up of the ADIZ could cause “unintended consequences” in the region.
The ministry said it is consulting with the United States, which has military bases in Tokyo, and coordinating with other “relevant countries and partners” that have common interests in ensuring the stability and the safety of the region.
“Japan will, in partnership with the international community, strongly urge China to exercise self-restraint,” it said.
The ministry said China’s establishment of the zone, which overlaps with Tokyo’s own air defense zone, is a “profoundly dangerous [act]that unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, escalating the situation, and that may cause unintended consequences in the [region].”
The United States defied Beijing’s air defense zone on Wednesday by flying two B-52 bombers through the area.
The exercise was described as a training mission, although analysts said US was clear in its message that it will not recognize the new territorial claims Beijing imposed over the weekend.
China did not respond to what Chinese netizens referred to as provocation and defiance from Washington.
The Japanese ministry insisted it will not recognize China’s air defense zone, and that such measures “have no validity whatsoever in Japan.”
“Japan demands China to revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace,” the statement said.
Japan has already protested China’s actions and expressed its concerns to Beijing. It also demanded China to revoke such measures.
“Japan will continue to respond firmly but in a calm manner against China’s attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo by coercive measures with determination to defend resolutely its territorial land, sea and airspace,” the ministry said.
Beijing was incensed by Tokyo’s move to nationalize the chain of islands in the East China Sea in September 2012. The islands are called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese.
Chinese and Japanese coast guards have regularly confronted each other in the surrounding waters, with China being angered by Japan’s threat to shoot down Chinese surveillance vessels in the disputed waters.
The Senkaku Islands stretch out to a total of seven square kilometers, and is located northeast of Taiwan, east of mainland China and southwest of Okinawa.
The uninhabited chain of islands is close to major shipping lanes, offers rich fishing grounds and believed to contain oil deposits.
China’s claim is founded on ancient times while Japan incorporated the islands into its Nansei and Shoto islands back in 1985.