Japan warned Sunday of the danger of “unpredictable events” and South Korea voiced regret following China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Zone over areas claimed by Tokyo and Seoul.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan was considering making stronger protests “at a higher level” after China announced Saturday it was setting up the zone over an area that includes the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islets, which are also claimed by Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday they were “deeply concerned” at China’s move and were committed to defending Japan.
China said it was setting up the “air defence identification zone” over an area including the islets in the East China Sea to guard against “potential air threats.”
It released a set of aircraft identification rules that must be followed by planes entering the area.
Kishida told reporters that Japan cannot accept the Chinese measure, calling it “a one-sided action which leads us to assume the danger of unpredictable events on the spot,” in remarks that later drew a rebuke from Beijing.
China said it “firmly” opposed Japan’s remarks, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang calling them “groundless and utterly wrong,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Qin, who also urged the United States not to take sides over the issue, said Beijing had “lodged representation” with U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke over the American response to the ADIZ, calling for Washington to “correct its mistakes.”
Qin said the aims of the zone, which he asserted complies with international law, “are to protect China’s state sovereignty and territorial and airspace safety.” He added that the move did not target any specific nation “and will not affect the freedom of overflights in relevant airspace.”
The dispute over the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu, heated up last year when Japan effectively nationalized the chain, which it first took possession of in 1895.
China has since sent coast guard vessels and other state-owned ships as well as aircraft close to the uninhabited islets, sometimes breaching asserted airspace and territorial waters around them.
This has prompted Japan Coast Guard boats and Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets to try to warn them off.
The Defense Ministry said Saturday two Chinese planes entered Japan’s own ADIZ over the East China Sea, prompting ASDF fighters to be scrambled.
The ministry lodged a strong protest with a minister at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo by telephone.
Hagel reiterated that the islands fall under the U.S.-Japan security treaty, meaning Washington would defend its ally Tokyo if the area is attacked.
He made it clear the United States, which stations more than 70,000 service members in Japan and South Korea, would not respect China’s declaration of control over the zone.
However, Washington has repeatedly said it takes no position on the islands’ ultimate sovereignty.
Japan has vowed not to cede sovereignty or even to acknowledge a dispute with China over the islands.
It accuses its neighbor of trying to change the status quo through intimidation.
Former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, speaking as deputy head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said defense officials of the two countries must keep in close communication “to prevent a touch-and-go situation from arising.”
The South Korean Defence Ministry said the Chinese zone partly overlapped its own.
“We find it regretful that China’s air defense zone partly overlaps with our military’s KADIZ (Korean Air Defense Identification Zone) in the area west of Jeju Island,” said a ministry statement, according to Yonhap news agency.
“We will discuss with China the issue so as to prevent its establishment from affecting our national interests.”
A military source quoted by Yonhap said the overlapping area is 20 km wide and 115 km long.
The Chinese zone also includes a South Korean-controlled submerged rock that lies within the two countries’ overlapping economic zones, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official quoted by the news agency.