China says it’s sent warplanes into its newly declared maritime air defence zone in the East China Sea, days after the US, South Korea and Japan all sent flights through the airspace in defiance of Beijing rules.
China’s air force sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft on normal air patrols in the zone, the Xinhua agency reported on Thursday, citing air force spokesman Shen Jinke.
The report did not specify exactly when the flights were sent or whether they had encountered foreign aircraft.
The US, Japan and South Korea have said their aircraft had not encountered any Chinese response since Beijing announced the creation of the zone last week.
Shen described Thursday’s flights as “a defensive measure and in line with international common practices”.
He said China’s air force would remain on high alert and will take measures to protect the country’s airspace.
While China’s surprise announcement last week to create the zone initially raised some tensions in the region, analysts say Beijing’s motive is not to trigger an aerial confrontation, but is a more long-term strategy to solidify claims to disputed territory by simply marking the area as its own.
Without prior notice, Beijing began demanding on Saturday that passing aircraft in the zone identify themselves and accept Chinese instructions or face consequences.
China’s lack of efforts to stop the foreign flights – including two US B-52s that flew through the zone on Tuesday – has been an embarrassment for Beijing.
Even some Chinese state media outlets suggested Thursday that Beijing may have mishandled the episodes.