Several governments joined Japan Tuesday in criticizing China’s latest bid to carve out a zone of control in the East China Sea, including Australia summoning Beijing’s ambassador to voice opposition over the move.
As administrations around the world began lining up against Beijing over its unilaterally declared Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), dismissing it as invalid, Japan called on its airlines to refuse China’s demands that they obey new rules when entering the zone.
China’s declaration of an air defence zone has sharply escalated tensions in the region.
The rules Beijing announced at the weekend mean China has effectively demanded control over the airspace above a swathe of the East China Sea criss-crossed by vital transport lanes.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) initially said that since Sunday it has been submitting flight plans to Chinese authorities for any plane that was due to pass through the area, which includes islands at the centre of a bitter territorial row between Tokyo and Beijing.
Its affiliate Peach Aviation said it was doing the same “for now” and Japan Airlines said it was also complying with the rules.
But late Tuesday the Kyodo and Jiji news agencies reported that both All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines had reversed that decision, giving no further explanations.
The zone covers the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Australia said Tuesday it had summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey its opinion that “the timing and the manner of China’s announcement are unhelpful in light of current regional tensions, and will not contribute to regional stability.”
“Australia has made clear its opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
In response, China’s foreign ministry said that “we hope Australia can understand correctly, and make joint efforts to maintain the security of flight in the relevant airspace.”
Germany’s government said the move “raised the risk of an armed incident between China and Japan.”
The United States earlier came out forcefully in Tokyo’s favor by affirming that the Senkakus fall under the U.S.-Japan security treaty.
“This announcement from the Chinese government was unnecessarily inflammatory,” White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
On Tuesday Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe huddled with his foreign and defense ministers, with his spokesman decrying China’s attempt to alter the status quo in the region “forcibly and unilaterally.”
“In cooperation with the international community, we are strongly urging the Chinese side to make a correction,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Transport Minister Akihiro Ota insisted that the Chinese declaration was “not valid at all” and called on Japanese airlines to ignore it.
But Japan’s main aviation companies had initially acquiesced.
“We have taken the measures in line with international regulations,” an ANA spokesman said. “Safety is our top priority. We have to avoid any possibility of the worst-case scenario.”
Peach Aviation said it had taken similar steps. “We will continue submitting our flight plans to the Chinese side for now,” a spokesman said.
On Monday Tokyo called in Beijing’s ambassador to demand a roll-back of the plan which it said would “interfere with freedom of flight over the high seas.” But it was rebuffed by Cheng Yonghua, who said Tokyo should retract its “unreasonable demand.”
Under the rules, aircraft are 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 area also includes waters claimed by Taiwan and South Korea, which have also both registered their displeasure at the move.
In Taipei an official of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said Taiwan’s airlines will abide by the rules set out by China, with the CAA forwarding flight plans to Chinese aviation authorities.
But Korean Air and its South Korean rival Asiana Airlines said none of their planes flying through the zone were reporting in advance to China.
“There will be no changes in our operations until there is a new policy guideline from the transportation ministry,” a Korean Air statement said, in comments echoed by Asiana.
But the announcement of the ADIZ drew applause in China, where a poll by the state-run Global Times newspaper showed nearly 85 percent of respondents believe the zone would “safeguard (China’s) airspace security.”