China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone that includes disputed islands is “profoundly dangerous”, Japan’s prime minister said on Monday, as South Korea weighed into the war of words against Beijing.
Shinzo Abe’s warning comes after Washington said it would stand by Japan in the event of any military clash over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
“I am strongly concerned as it is a profoundly dangerous act that may cause unintended consequences,” Abe told parliament.
“Japan will ask China to restrain itself while we continue cooperating with the international community,” he said.
The comments are the first from the premier on the issue since Beijing on Saturday announced it would require all aircraft flying over an area of the East China Sea to obey its orders.
US Secretary of State John Kerry declared Washington “deeply concerned”, saying the move raised “risks of an incident”.
“This unilateral action constitutes an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Kerry said.
In announcing the new rules, a Chinese defense ministry spokesman said they would safeguard territorial sovereignty and maintain “flight order”.
Aircraft are now expected to provide their flight plan, clearly mark their nationality, and maintain two-way radio communication allowing them to “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries from Chinese authorities, the defense ministry said.
The announcement of the area, which also includes waters claimed by Taipei and Seoul, provoked ire in both cities.
Part of the zone overlaps South Korea’s own air defense zone and incorporates a disputed, submerged, South Korean-controlled rock—known as Ieodo—that has long been a source of diplomatic tension with Beijing.
“I’d like to say once again that we have unchanging territorial control over Ieodo,” defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said on Monday.
In Taipei, which also claims the Senkakus, the government pledged to “defend its sovereignty over the archipelago, protect the rights of Taiwan fishermen in surrounding waters, and maintain patrols to safeguard fishing activities”.
Japan’s foreign ministry said it would not respect the Chinese demarcation, which it said had “no validity whatsoever in Japan”.
‘Hypocritical and impudent’
Beijing is engaged in a series of bilateral tiffs over the ownership of islands and the waters surrounding them, including several separate disputes in the South China Sea.
But the most serious is with Japan over the archipelago in the East China Sea.
The disagreement has simmered for decades, but snapped into focus in September 2012 when Tokyo nationalized three of the islands.
Japan billed the move as an attempt to avoid a much more inflammatory purchase by a vocal nationalist, but China reacted with fury and relations went into meltdown.
The two countries now play an almost permanent game of cat and mouse in the area, with official ships and aircraft shadowing each other.
Observers say the frequent presence of military or paramilitary bodies from both sides raises the risk that a miscalculation or a crash could quickly escalate into a conflict, dragging in the United States.
Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University, said the move by China was to be expected because thus far, no one has stopped Beijing as it tests how far it can change the status quo.
“China is trying to make Japan admit to the fact that there is a territorial dispute,” he said.
“It is trying to make Japan . . . go back to the state before it nationalized some of the islands,” he said, referring to an informal entente that was reached in the mid-1970s when the two sides agreed not to talk about the subject.
“China is seeing what Washington and Tokyo will do,” said Kato.
Chinese newspapers on Monday threw back Japan’s outrage over the air defense identification zone.
“Tokyo is hypocritical and impudent in its complaint with Beijing,” said an editorial in the Global Times newspaper, which is close to China’s ruling Communist Party.
The paper accused Japan of double standards as its own air defense zone is as close as 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Russia and 130 kilometers from China.
“If Japan sends warplanes to ‘intercept’ China’s jet fighters, Beijing’s armed forces will be bound to adopt defensive emergency measures,” it said.
The world’s second- and third-largest economies have significant business ties but their political relationship is heavily shadowed by history including Japan’s brutal invasion of China before World War II. AFP