U.S. Defies China, Flies Bombers Over Newly Declared Air Defense Zone

Days after China asserted military control over portions of the East China Sea by claiming a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move.

A group of disputed islands, Uotsuri island (top), Minamikojima (bottom) and Kitakojima, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China is seen in the East China Sea. Kyodo Kyodo / Via Reuters

China declared a new “air defense identification zone” on Saturday, where anyone flying in the air space would have to identify themselves and seek approval from the country. On Tuesday, the U.S. government boldly flew two B-52 bombers, making it clear they will not comply with the rules, although they maintain it was a training mission.

The air space is over the East China Sea and connected to disputed claims by China and Japan over several islands — called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. American and Japanese officials have called the zone invalid, as have Taiwan and South Korea, who both have close ties to the U.S. and their own territorial disputes with China.

Computer screens display a map showing the outline of China’s new air defense zone in the East China Sea. Ng Han Guan / Via AP

The U.S. government asserted the unarmed bombers, which made their roundtrip from Guam on Monday, were sent on a pre-scheduled routine practice.

Although Tuesday, Josh Earnest, a deputy White House spokesman, reiterated that the Chinese announcement was “unnecessarily inflammatory” and had a “destabilizing impact on the region.”

U.S. government administrators said Vice President Joe Biden will talk with officials in Beijing during a scheduled visit next week about their aggressive territorial claims. The U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend Japan if it is attacked.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s PC3 surveillance plane flies around the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Kyodo / Via Reuters

Chinese officials were angered by Japan’s move in Sept. 2012 to nationalize the disputed islands. Chinese and Japanese coast guard ships in the past year have regularly confronted each other in the waters surrounding the islands. Last month, Japan further upset Beijing by threatening to shoot down Chinese drones if they were sent on surveillance missions over the islands.

The air zone announcement by China serves to keep the issue in the press and hopes to get Japan to admit that the islands are in dispute — a possible first step in taking claim over them.

A group of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Kyodo / Reuters

Meanwhile on Wednesday China announced on its website that its navy’s sole aircraft carrier was heading toward the South China Sea, where the country has had similar territorial disputes with other adjacent nations including the Philippines and Vietnam.

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