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Japan and the US defy new China airspace zone

The US and Japan have defied Chinese authorities by flying their aircraft through a new airspace defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Tokyo also claims ownership of the islands.

One day after the US flew two unarmed B-52 bombersaround the disputed Senkaku Islands, Japan's main airline also defied Chinese authorities by passing through the new airspace defense zone over the East China Sea on Wednesday.

Following a request from the Japanese government, which has called the zone invalid, Japan Airlines (JAL) and ANA Holdings said they stopped giving flight plans to Chinese authorities on Wednesday.

Japan's aviation industry association said it had concluded there was no threat to passenger safety by ignoring the Chinese demands.

Ongoing dispute

The defiance follows a weekend declaration by China, which on Saturday published coordinates for an "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)," including the disputed islands. The Senkakus, known as the Diayou in Chinese, are the center of a long-running dispute for sovereignty between Beijing and Tokyo.

The ADIZ declaration, if observed to by other nations, would give China control over airspace above some of the world's busiest international shipping lanes.

China had warned that it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that fail to correctly identify themselves within the airspace. China's Defense Ministry said it had monitored the US bombers entire progress through the zone on Tuesday Asian time, however no action was taken.

Beijing on Wednesday also dismissed Australian criticism of the zone as "completely mistaken.”

Australian opposition

On Tuesday, Australia announced it had summoned Beijing's ambassador to voice opposition to the ADIZ.

"Australia's irresponsible statements on the East Sea air defense identification zone are completely mistaken, China cannot accept them," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

He said that China had "expressed its strong dissatisfaction" and called on Australia to "immediately correct its mistake, so as to avoid damaging China-Australia relations."

China's declaration has sharply raised tensions in the region ahead of a trip by US Vice President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to travel to Japan next week with stops in China and South Korea.

While Washington does not take a position on sovereignty over the islands, it recognizes that Tokyo maintains administrative control over them and it is therefore bound by treaty to defend Japan in the event of an armed conflict.

hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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