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China flies into disputed island zone

China says its air force is on "high alert" and has dispatched its own aircraft in a regional dispute over an island group. This follows flights over the islands by Japan, South Korea and the US in recent days.

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Tensions mount in East China Sea

China's Global Times newspaper warned on Friday of "confrontations" reminiscent of the "Cold War" after its Asian neighbors defied China's territorial claim. The European Union called on all sides to "exercise caution."

Several Chinese fighter jets and an early-warning aircraft flew over the East China Sea early Friday, into an "air defense identification zone" declared by Beijing last weekend, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua cited air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying that the aircraft, including Russian-designed Su-30 fighter jets, had conducted routine flights as a "defensive measure."

"China's air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country's airspace," Shen said.

The islands, known in Japan as the Senkaku, in China as the Diaoyu and Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai, lie in an area thought to be rich in oil and gas reserves and close to major Asian shipping routes.

EU appeals for caution

Europe's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said the European Union (EU) was concerned about China's decision to establish the new zone.

"This development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region," Ashton said. "The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and restraint."

Japan's Kyodo news agency, meanwhile, reported that Tokyo had rejected a Chinese proposal for a dispute-resolution "mechanism" to be set up to prevent aerial incidents.

Kyodo said the government was concerned that such a move could "erode" Japan's control over the islands through an implied recognition of China's competing claim to the islands.

"Our country's principle is that we will assert our position firmly in a stern but calm manner," said Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga. "And we keep the window of dialogue open."

Biden to visit region

On Tuesday the US said two of its B-52 bombers had flown on a "routine, planned training mission" through the airspace. Japan and South Korea followed, saying they had sent military or coastguard flights through the zone.

Senior US administration officials quoted by the Reuters news agency said US Vice President Joe Biden was due to visit China, Japan and South Korea next week and would try to ease tensions.

"We decline to comment on Chinese flights, but the United States will continue to partner with our allies and operate in the area as normal," a Pentagon spokesman said.

The islands dispute was dormant for decades but flared in September 2012 when Tokyo purchased three of the uninhabited outcrops from private owners.

Beijing accused Tokyo of changing the status quo and sent surveillance ships.

ipj/pfd (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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