The Chinese government says it was able to monitor two U.S. bombers that flew through airspace it recently restricted over a string of disputed islands.
American B-52 bombers flew through the area over the Senkakus/Diaoyu island chain in the East China Sea a few days after China established an "Air Defense Identification Zone" on Saturday. The Department of Defense immediately said it would not heed the Chinese requirements for identifying foreign aircraft before they enter the international airspace.
China has claimed the zone serves as an "emergency defensive measure." A spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry said Wednesday it paid close attention to the flight path of the two bombers, which entered the zone from 11 a.m. to roughly 1:20 p.m. local time, flying roughly 200 kilometers east of the islands.
"We need to stress that China will identify every aircraft flying in the air defense identification zone according to the country's announcement of aircraft identification rules for the air defense identification zone," said ministry spokesman Gen Yansheng, according to state-sponsored news agency Xinhua. "China is capable of exercising effective control over this airspace."
The Chinese government has released detailed maps and charts of the region around the islands they call Diaoyu, which rival Japan refers to as Senkaku.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called his Japanese counterpart early Wednesday to reaffirm U.S. support for its longtime ally, and commend the Japanese government for not escalating the situation. The island chain is included in the geography outlined in the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. The U.S. military stance would not change as a result of the new air zone, Hagel said, and pre-planned exercises such as Wednesday's will continue.
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday afternoon it doesn't support any government that tries to restrict international zones, particularly for flights that do not intend to enter national airspace.
"The United States does not apply that procedure to foreign aircraft, so it certainly is one we don't think others should apply," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "We have long talked about concerns about increasing tensions or the raising of tensions and the impact that would have. At this point, our role is to continue to encourage both sides to move forward with dialogue, to express concerns when we disagree with steps that China has taken, which is a case we've obviously done here."
When asked if the U.S. decision to deploy bombers could increase tensions, Psaki said, "We have a wide-ranging relationship with China, but when there are concerns that need to be expressed, we are not shy about expressing them."
Hagel blasted the Chinese move over the weekend, calling it a "destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region."
"This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations," he said on Saturday, hours after China announced the zone.
"This announcement by the People's Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region," Hagel added. "The United States is conveying these concerns to China through diplomatic and military channels, and we are in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region, including Japan."