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Japanese PM Abe calls new China airspace rules 'dangerous'

The Japanese prime minister has warned that China's new maritime air defense zone will aggravate an already tense situation. China has lodged diplomatic protests over Japanese and US criticism of the move.

Speaking at a session of the Japanese parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that China's declaration of an air defense identification zone that includes disputed islands could escalate what is already a strained state of affairs in the region.

"I am strongly concerned as it is a profoundly dangerous act that may cause unintended consequences," Abe was quoted by reports as saying.

"The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace," he added.

It is the first time Abe has commented on the issue since Beijing announced on Saturday that all aircraft flying over a certain area of the East China Sea would have to obey its orders.

The newly established region, known as the "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone," includes the airspace above uninhabited islands claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyus in China. It also takes in waters claimed by Taipei and Seoul and overlaps with part of South Korea's own air defense zone.

Abe's warning comes after Washington said it would stand by Japan if it were to come to a military clash over the islands, whose disputed ownership has strained Sino-Japanese relations for months. US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend urged China to exercise caution and restraint, saying freedom of overflight was essential to stability and security in the Pacific.

'Unfounded and irresponsible criticism'

The Chinese Defense Ministry meanwhile says it has responded to criticism from Washington and Tokyo by lodging formal protests with the US and Japanese embassies in China.

The ministry called the criticism unfounded and irresponsible, and demanded that the US stop taking sides with Japan in the dispute over the islands.

In a statement on the ministry's website, spokesman Yang Yujun said Japan's remarks were "unjustified" and that China completely rejected its criticism.

"We reiterate that the purpose of China's approach is to defend national sovereignty and territorial airspace security, maintain the order of airspace flight, and is an effective exercise of our right of self defense," Yang said.

China has said the new rules would not affect "normal operations" for international flights.

tj/hc (Reuters, dpa, AFP)