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China creates 'air defense zone' to oversee disputed East China Sea

China has announced the establishment of an air defense zone over the East China Sea, including islands also claimed by Japan. It is the latest incident in an escalating conflict over the disputed islands.

China laid claim to the block of airspace over the disputed islands in the East China Sea on Saturday, warning that "defensive emergency measures" would be taken should any craft refuse to comply with new identification rules.

A map with coordinates was published of the area it called "the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone." It encompasses the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in China. The islands, also claimed by Taiwan, are believed to be surrounded by oil and gas deposits.

According to the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, aircraft will now have to report flight plans to the Foreign Ministry or civil aviation administration, maintain radio contact when entering the area, reply promptly to identification inquiries, keep radar transponders turned on, and bear clear markings of their nationality and registration.

Should aircraft not comply with the new rules, "China's armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions," Xinhua reported.

The Defense Ministry, which is to act as the "administrative organ for the zone," announced that the plan would "guard against potential air threats," according to the news agency.

The zone became operational as of 10 a.m. local time on Saturday (0200 UTC).

The creation of the zone is likely to further heighten tensions in a bitter territorial row between the two countries, which were revived when Japan nationalized three of the archipelago's five islands in September last year.

ccp/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)