China’s military ratcheted up tensions on Tuesday over its disputed East China Sea air defense zone by threatening military action against Japan and saying it would enforce new aircraft controls.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yangsheng accused Japan in a statement of “making trouble” and he warned Chinese military aircraft would enforce the newly imposed air defense identification zone, or ADIZ.
“Japan's actions have seriously harmed China's legitimate rights and security interests, and undermined the peace and stability in East Asia,” Geng said through the official Xinhua news agency. “China has to take necessary reactions.”
Geng listed a series of actions by Japan he said had increased tensions, including Tokyo’s frequent dispatch of ships and aircraft to areas near the disputed Senkaku islands, threats to shoot down Chinese drones, and overall escalation of regional tensions.
Without mentioning the United States, Geng also said other countries must “correct wrong remarks and wrongdoings,” he said.
“Other parties should not be incited, or send wrong signals to make a very few countries go further on the wrong track, which will follow the same old disastrous road and undermine regional and world peace,” Geng said, insisting that China adheres to peaceful development and defensive policies.
The comments were the most forceful by a Chinese government spokesman since Beijing unilaterally declared the ADIZ that overlaps Japan’s air defense zone and covers the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu.
On Capitol Hill, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the latest tensions highlight the administration’s “confusing and inconsistent messages” to Japan, a key ally.
The administration for months before China’s imposition of the air zone had said it was neutral in maritime disputes. It then belatedly backed Japan, invoking defense commitments under the U.S.-Japan defense treaty.
“In an obvious attempt to placate China, the United States is sacrificing the assurance to our allies in the region that we are a reliable and steadfast security partner,” Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) said in a statement to the Free Beacon.
Inhofe noted that 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan defense treaty.
“The belated invocation of our treaty obligation clearly falls well short of an appropriate response to this latest provocation by China that would be consistent with the spirit and intent of the treaty,” Inhofe said. “Unfortunately, this follows a pattern of fumbled reactions by the Obama administration in other regions of the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon also called the Chinese air zone “bullying” by China that risks a military miscalculation.
“I am glad to see that China's blatantly aggressive actions aren't affecting how the U.S. military conducts operations in the region, and I’m pleased to hear that U.S. military flight operations are continuing as planned,” McKeon said in a statement.
“It’s important the United States stand with its long-time treaty ally, Japan, against this kind of international bullying,” McKeon said. “I encourage Vice President Biden to call on Beijing to retract this antagonist claim during his visit there later this week.”
In Tokyo, Vice President Joe Biden took a noticeably milder tone on the dispute with China than Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Biden will be in China on Wednesday, December 4, and Thursday, December 5.
At a press conference with Biden, Abe said the United States and Japan should “should not tolerate the attempt by China to change status quo unilaterally by force.”
Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about a potential conflict caused by the sudden imposition of the air defense zone.
“This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” he said.
“If you’ll forgive a personal reference, my father had an expression. He said, the only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended. The prospect for miscalculation mistake is too high,” Biden said.
Contrary to Japanese press reports, the two leaders did not issue a statement calling for China to roll back the destabilizing air zone.
Earlier, a senior Obama administration official briefing reporters on the Biden-Abe talks said the ADIZ imposition by China was “a provocative action, an uncoordinated action at a time when tensions were already running high.”
“And that this is not the kind of thing that contributes to greater peace and security in Northeast Asia or in the Asia Pacific region,” the official said.
There also are concerns China will further increase tensions by announcing another air defense zone over the disputed South China Sea. Chinese government spokesman in recent days have not ruled out an ADIZ over that area, where Vietnam, Philippines, and other states are challenging China’s maritime claims over most of the sea.
At the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesman Hong Lei also called on Japan to “correct mistakes” on the air zone.
Asked about U.S. government calls for the air zone to be rescinded, Hong said China would not back down. “The establishment of the East China Sea ADIZ falls within China's sovereignty and is a necessary measure for the Chinese side to exercise its justifiable right of self-defense,” he said.
U.S. officials who briefed reporters in Tokyo also sought to backtrack on reports that the administration has urged U.S. airlines to recognize the Chinese ADIZ by issuing pre-flight plans to the Chinese. The New York Times said the administration urged airlines to follow the rules, a move that appeared to undercut Japan’s position that its airlines should not submit pre-flight plans for paths over the East China Sea.
One administration official said the Federal Aviation Administration did not direct airlines to follow Chinese flight rules but simply issued a guidance reiterating the long-standing practice that they respond to foreign notices to airmen.
Chinese propaganda organs uniformly published reports playing down the fact that the ADIZ is an effort by China to expand its power further from its coasts.
Instead, state media and official spokesman sought to portray as a means of improving air safety or protecting Chinese airspace.
China’s Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times, a booster of Chinese militarism, continued its recent inflammatory rhetoric on the East China Sea dispute
“The U.S.'s stance of feigning fairness while actually backing one side between China and Japan seems established, but if Biden's tricks in Japan go too far, this will seriously affect the atmosphere of his next visit to China,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
“The confidence of Chinese society is declining on whether the U.S. and Japan really have no intention to provoke a war in the western Pacific.”
Earlier on Nov. 27 Global Times warned that “maybe an imminent conflict will be waged between China and Japan.”
“We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China's newly-declared ADIZ,” the newspaper said. “If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ.”
“If the trend continues, there will likely be frictions and confrontations and even tension in the air like in the Cold War era between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It is therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts.”
Meanwhile, in a sign that China is preparing to use the air defense zone for commercial benefit, China announced recently that it is creating a Deep Sea Base at the northern port of Qingdao that will be used to advance undersea gas and oil exploitation.
The base will support China’s deep-sea oil and gas exploration through pier operations, equipment repair and maintenance, diver training, scientific research, and other functions for prospecting for undersea resources.
The disputed Senkakus are said to have vast undersea gas and oil deposits that both China and Japan are seeking to exploit but that so far have not tried to develop.
Former State Department official John Tkacik said Biden stopped well short of condemning China’s imposition of the air zone and instead offered the more diplomatic “deeply concerned” formulation.
“Japan is an ally, and China is at best, and adversary, and it is bad policy to attempt ‘neutrality’ when trying to reassure an ally,” Tkacik said in an email.
“The United States administered Okinawa including the Senkaku Islands for 27 years from 1945 to 1972 under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the United States returned Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japan under the terms of a formal treaty in 1972. So, it is disingenuous for the U.S. to claim that it has no position on Japan's sovereignty in the Senkakus.”
Other states in the region also have voiced worries over China’s East China Sea controls.
Philippines Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Chinese air zone threatens freedom of flight.
“China’s East Asia Sea ADIZ transforms the entire air zone into its domestic airspace, infringes on the right to freedom of flight in international airspace and compromises the safety of civil aviation and national security of affected states,” state-run Philippine News Agency quoted Hernandez as saying.
The South Korean government said its airlines would not provide flight plans to China, as Beijing is demanding.
"The flight path from Korea to Southeast Asia passes through the air defense identification zone announced by China, but we have told civilian airlines not to provide their flight plans to China just as they have done in the past," an official at the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport said Dec. 2.
"This route is approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and air defense identification zones have no standing in international law. It is our position that China cannot take any coercive action against civilian aircraft," the official said, according to Hankyoreh Online.
Military sources in Taiwan said China’s next move in the East China Sea will be to challenge the middle line dividing China and Taiwan along the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait.
The newspaper Tzu-yu Shih-pao quoted a high-ranking general Nov. 24 as saying China will press Taiwan to permit civilian flights to cross the middle line.