Friday, 29 November 2013

China at odds with Japan, US over new air zone

This week has seen a marked challenge to the US' decades-long hegemony over the Asia-Pacific region. On Saturday 23 November, China announced the creation of a new “air defence identification zone” in the East China Sea, which controversially overlaps with an air zone set out by Japan and covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Both Japan and the US are heavily opposed to the air zone and see it is a destabilising move in an already fraught maritime area dividing these two Asian neighbours.
Unannounced, the US flew two B52 bombers over the disputed Islands in defiance at the new Chinese air rules on Tuesday 26 November. The aircraft took off from the island of Guam, a US military outpost in the Pacific, as part of a routine defence exercise, without filing the flight plans with Chinese authorities, sending a clear signal that Washington is not prepared to accept any unilateral change to the status quo. China said that the entire flight was closely monitored and that aircraft that pass through the zone must obey its rules and declare their plans.
Beijing has told Tokyo that the flight information for all Japanese-chartered flights travelling through this air space must be filed with them in advance. Having firstly met the request, Japan's premier Shinzo Abe said shortly after the US bomber flight that Japan would not be doing so in future, saying instead that the zone was “invalid”.
Military muscles were flexed by both powers this week as tensions continue to mount. The day after the B52s flew across the East China Sea, the Japanese parliament passed a bill which enshrined a national security council, effectively handing over more control of the state military apparatus to Abe. On Wednesday 27 December, China's President Xi Jinping launched the country's Liaoning aircraft carrier into the South China Sea – another area where they are engaged in several maritime border disputes.
Relations between the second and third-largest economies in the world have been strained during the last year, as Japan has remained defiant of its territorial rights over islands in the East China Sea in the face of an increasingly robust foreign policy by China. Ships and aircraft from both sides have been involved in provocative military exercises in each other's back yards since Japan officially bought three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
It is believed the eight uninhabited islands, referred to as the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands by Japan and China respectively, are located near potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves and strategic shipping lanes, as well as being situated in valuable fishing waters. The island's Exclusive Economic Zone would grant the controlling state sovereignty over these resources.
For further analysis on the claims by each side to these islands, please visit our border briefing page on the East China Sea.

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