US bombers fly over China air defence zone
27 November 2013, 14:00
Washington - Two US B-52 bombers flew over the disputed islands in the East China Sea during a training mission on Tuesday, defying new territorial claims laid out by Beijing over the weekend, according to several US officials.
The two unarmed bombers took off from Guam and were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday there, the officials said, adding that the aircraft encountered no problems.
While the US insisted the training mission was long-planned and was not in reaction to China's latest declaration, it came just days after China issued a map and a new set of rules governing the zone, which includes a cluster of islands that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by Beijing.
China said on Saturday that all aircraft entering the new air defence zone must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing's orders. US officials, however, said they have received no reaction to the bomber flights from the Chinese.
The bomber mission underscores Washington's immediate rejection of China's new rules. The US, which has hundreds of military aircraft based in the region, has said it has zero intention of complying.
Japan likewise has called the zone invalid, unenforceable and dangerous, while Taiwan and South Korea, both close to the US, also rejected it.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest would not specifically comment on Tuesday on the military flights. But he told reporters travelling with Obama in Los Angeles that, "it continues to be our view that the policy announced by the Chinese over the weekend is unnecessarily inflammatory and has a destabilising impact on the region."
The US mission took place between about midnight on Monday and 03:00, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the flights. The flights were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
China's move to further assert its territorial claims over the islands is not expected to immediately spark confrontations with foreign aircraft.
Yet the move fits a pattern of putting teeth behind China's claims and could potentially lead to dangerous encounters depending on how vigorously China enforces it and how cautious it is when intercepting aircraft from Japan, the US and other countries.
While enforcement is expected to start slowly, Beijing has a record of playing the long game, and analysts say they anticipate a gradual scaling-up of activity.
The declaration seems to have flopped as a foreign policy gambit. Analysts say Beijing may have miscalculated the forcefulness and speed with which its neighbours rejected its demands.
At least in the short term, the move undermines Beijing's drive for regional influence, said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"It doesn't serve Chinese interests to have tensions with so many neighbours simultaneously," she said.
Denny Roy, a security expert at the East-West Centre in Hawaii, said China's enforcement will likely be mostly rhetorical at first.
"The Chinese can now start counting and reporting what they call Japanese violations, while arguing that the Chinese side has shown great restraint by not exercising what they will call China's right to shoot, and arguing further that China cannot be so patient indefinitely," Roy said.