Asian airlines to give flight plans to China after airspace zone created

Reuters

(Repeats story published late Monday; no change to text)

* Airlines forced to acknowledge China's authority over newzone

* Zone covers area about two-thirds the size of the UK

* China seen chipping away at Tokyo's claim toadministrative control over area

* China says will set up other such zones when preparationsfinalised

* Beijing in war of words with Tokyo, Washington

By Ben Blanchard and Tim Kelly

BEIJING/TOKYO, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Asian airlines will informChina of their flight plans before entering airspace over watersdisputed with Japan, regional aviation officials said on Monday,effectively acknowledging Beijing's authority over a newlydeclared "Air Defense Identification Zone".

China published coordinates for the zone on the weekend. Thearea, about two-thirds the size of the United Kingdom, coversmost of the East China Sea and the skies over a group ofuninhabited islands at the centre of a bitter row betweenBeijing and Tokyo.

Japan and its close ally, the United States, sharplycriticised the move, which experts said was aimed at chippingaway at Tokyo's claim to administrative control over the area,including the tiny uninhabited islands known as the Senkaku inJapan and the Diaoyu in China.

While China said the new rules would not affect "normaloperations" for international flights, it added that it wouldtake "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failedto identify themselves properly.

China's latest move could help spread the view that Japanwas losing administrative control of the area, said HirokoMaeda, research fellow at Japanese think-tank the PHP Institute.

"China has already been sending its ships (there). It isclear China is trying to undermine Japan's administrativecontrol. Now they are stepping up their effort in the sky aswell," Maeda said.

Civil aviation officials from Hong Kong and Taiwan saidtheir carriers entering the zone must send flight plans toChinese aviation authorities. A transport ministry official inSeoul said South Korean planes would do the same.

An official at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau said Japaneseairlines flying through the region to non-mainland Chinesedestinations would likely need to inform China of their plans."Airlines have been advised to take greater care in the area,"said another bureau official.

Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd said they would keep Chinese authorities informed of theirflights through the area.

Korean Air said its flight plans would bedelivered to Chinese authorities but the routes its pilots tookwould not be affected. Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings also said the zone had not affected their flights.

WAR OF WORDS

Japan protested the weekend move, warning of an escalationinto the "unexpected" if Beijing enforced the rules. U.S.Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the move a "destabilizingattempt to alter the status quo in the region".

While Washington does not take a position on the sovereigntyof the islands, it recognizes that Japan has administrativecontrol over them and is therefore bound by treaty to defendJapan in the event of an armed conflict.

Tensions flared last year between Beijing and Tokyo when theJapanese government bought three of the islands from a privatelandowner to fend off a potentially more inflammatory purchaseby the Tokyo metropolitan government, at the time headed bynationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara.

In the continuing war of words, China's Defence Ministrysaid on Monday it had lodged protests with the U.S. and Japaneseembassies in Beijing over the criticism from Washington andTokyo of the zone.

China also summoned Japan's ambassador, warning Tokyo to"stop (their) words and actions which create friction and harmregional stability", China's Foreign Ministry said. Meanwhile,Tokyo and Seoul summoned Chinese diplomats to protest.

Asian and Western diplomats said the zone was a problem forJapan, the United States and other countries that may be wary ofany acknowledgement of China's claims over the area.

"No one wants to be in a position where by following Chineseinstructions you are giving tacit acknowledgement of theirsovereignty over a disputed area," one Asian diplomat said. "Andthere is a fear that is precisely the game that is being played- it seems no accident that the disputed Senkaku islands are nowin the heart of overlapping zones."

Japan has its own Air Defence Identification Zone butofficials said Tokyo only required aircraft seen to beapproaching Japanese territorial airspace to identifythemselves.

In its announcement on Saturday, China's Defence Ministrysaid it would set up other such zones when preparations werefinalised. It gave no further details and the ministry's newsdepartment declined to elaborate when contacted by Reuters.

China also claims the South China Sea, which is believed tobe rich in oil and gas. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia,Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea,making it one of the region's biggest flashpoints.

CHINA PATROLS UNDER WAY

China's official Xinhua news agency said the rules for theEast China Sea came into effect on Saturday and that the Chineseair force conducted its first patrol over the zone. The patrolincluded early warning aircraft and fighters, it said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said China was forcingother countries to conform to its rules.

Abe, who came to office last December promising to beef upthe nation's military, has said Tokyo's door is open to dialogueto improve Sino-Japanese ties but has declined to acknowledgethe existence of a formal territorial dispute over the islands,a step upon which Beijing insists.

"It's a unilateral step, changing the status quo in the EastChina Sea," Abe said in parliament on Monday.

China's Defence Ministry said it was within the country'sright to set up the zone.

"We reiterate that the purpose of China's approach is todefend national sovereignty and territorial airspace security,maintain the order of airspace flight, and is an effectiveexercise of our right of self-defence," spokesman Yang Yujunsaid in a statement.

Yang said China's move complied with international law.

"The United States, on the issue of the Diaoyu islands, mustearnestly not take sides, not make inappropriate remarks and notgive the wrong signal to Japan and encourage (its) riskybehaviour," Yang said.

Japan's own Air Defense Identification Zone extends aroundthe Japanese archipelago and overlaps with China's new zone inpart of the East China Sea.

"We might have more risk of encounters with Chinese aircraftin the area," said one former Japanese air force official. "Weneed to establish a system to avoid unnecessary incidents."

The topic was hot on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, withsome users calling for war with Japan. "There can be nodiscussion on territorial issues, only war," wrote one user. (Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li in BEIJING,Cheng Herng Chinn and Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO, Joyce Lee andJack Kim in SEOUL, Michael Gold in TAIPEI, Greg Torode in HONGKONG, Maggie Lu Yueyang in Sydney and Anshuman Daga inSingapore. Editing by Linda Sieg and Dean Yates)

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