National / Politics

China pitching air safety mechanism but Japan not biting


China has proposed setting up a new mechanism aimed at preventing a military aircraft incident with Japan, sources said Thursday, amid growing regional concerns about Beijing’s newly declared air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.

The proposal was made by former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan during a meeting with Japanese former and current lawmakers in Beijing on Wednesday.

“It is also necessary to have crisis management for air. We should also have (talks on) air,” one of the sources quoted Tang as saying during the meeting after referring to the ongoing negotiations between defense officials of the two countries on a similar mechanism for maritime safety.

His request comes as Japan and several other countries, including South Korea and the United States, have reacted sharply to China’s sudden declaration Saturday of an ADIZ over the East China Sea that overlaps with that of Japan’s over the Japan-controlled, but China-claimed, uninhabited Senkaku Islands.

Japan, South Korea and the United States do not plan to recognize the new Chinese ADIZ, which also partially overlaps with South Korea’s, and they have characterized China’s move as an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

China’s rules governing the zone say aircraft must submit flight plans in advance or they could be subject to “emergency measures” by its armed forces.

During the meeting with former Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Taku Yamasaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party vice president, Tang stressed the legitimacy of China’s move, noting that as many as 20 other countries already have comparable air zones, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Expressing strong displeasure over Japan’s criticism over the new zone, Tang said, “Japan’s air defense identification zone is located very close to China’s territorial waters” and there should be no reason for Tokyo to complain, one source said.

The idea Tang, who served as China’s foreign minister for five years through 2003, floated of a bilateral air control mechanism is apparently part of Beijing’s efforts to bolster the legitimacy of the new zone.

Gemba and Yamasaki, who attended the meeting with former and current senior government officials, criticized China’s decision to establish the air zone above the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, without touching on Tang’s proposal, the sources said.

China began to claim the uninhabited islets, which it calls the Diaoyu, in the 1970s after studies indicated there may be vast oil reserves in the surrounding seabed. Japan took initial control of the territory in 1895.

Bilateral relations remain frosty since the Japanese government effectively put the islets under state control in September last year.

Tang is currently head of the China-Japan Friendship Association and he has often been playing a major role in conveying Beijing’s official views to leading Japanese figures.

If China tries to put this proposal on the negotiating table through diplomatic channels in the near future, Japan could be faced with a difficult decision.

Until now, Japan has been hoping to establish a crisis management mechanism between defense officials of the two countries. But it is unlikely to accept entering negotiations on the precondition that China’s new ADIZ is valid.

China is seeking joint management of waters surrounding the Senkakus after Japan acknowledges the existence of a dispute over them.

Tang’s proposal of setting a new safety mechanism fits well with this Chinese strategy of eroding Japan’s control of the Senkaku Islands.

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