Beijing: China on Saturday established an air defence zone over disputed islands claimed by Japan, sparking fresh tensions though Beijing maintained that the move would not affect international flights over the region.
The Chinese Defence Ministry announced that aircraft entering the "East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone", which became effective today, will have to inform China or face "emergency defensive measures".
Under new Chinese rules, aircraft entering the zone will have to report their flight plans to the Chinese Foreign Ministry or the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Defending the move Chinese Defence Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said, "The normal flight of international flights in the zone will not be affected."
The zone includes the airspace within the area enclosed by China`s outer limit of the territorial sea, the announcement said. It specified boundaries in the East China Sea, where the uninhabited disputed islands called Diaoyu by China and Senkakus by Japan are located, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Yang said China will take timely measures to deal with air threats and unidentified flying objects from the sea, including identification, monitoring, control and disposition, and hoped all relevant sides positively cooperate and jointly maintain flying safety.
"It is a necessary measure in China`s exercise of self-defence rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace," he added.
Asked on what grounds China established the zone, he said, "Since the 1950s, over 20 countries, including some big powers and China`s neighbouring countries, have set up air defence identification zones."
If enforced strictly the new Chinese law could spark off major military tensions with Japan, which has been administering the group of islets believed to be rich with minerals and hydro carbons.
China stepped up its protests over Japanese control from September last year after Tokyo bought the islets from a private Japanese party. China said this amounted to nationalisation of the islands and pressed its fleet of war ships to patrol aggressively with that of Japanese patrols.
Currently the coast guard ships of both countries aggressively patrol the waters of the islands every day, warning each other while blaring their sovereignty claims over their communication systems.
So far China has avoided pressing air patrols to aggressively counter the Japanese air surveillance.
Observers say that the new zone will take the dispute to a new level, creating fresh tensions as Japan too is aggressively gearing up to militarily defend its claims of sovereignty over the islands.
The move came as the two countries tried to defuse tensions through backdoor diplomacy to protect their USD 345 billion bilateral trade.