We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

China sends military air patrols into their newly demarcated airspace over disputed East China Sea archipelago increasing regional tensions

(2 December 2013)

China has sent warplanes into its newly declared air defence identification zone over the East China Sea archipelago in response to Japanese and South Korean surveillance aircraft monitoring the area. The American military also sent two B-52 bomber planes into the airspace on Tuesday, further condemning the newly established zone which covers the disputed islands. These aircraft failed to inform Beijing of their movements, challenging the Chinese airspace. Air defence identification zones do not essentially overlap with sovereign territorial claims, allowing states the power to define zones and specify rules that international aircraft must abide by.

China had warned of “defensive emergency measures” if any non-commercial aircraft was to enter the newly demarcated zone. Colonel Shen Jinke, a Chinese air force spokesperson, stated the warplanes were mobilised to “strengthen the monitoring of aerial targets” as a “defensive” patrol. He further announced, “China’s air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with the diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country’s airspace”.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, declared concern over China’s decision to establish the new airspace: “This development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region. The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and restraint”. 

The Chinese government argues that it is defending its right to national sovereignty in claiming the airspace as Chinese state territory. Qin Gang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, dismissed Ashton’s worries, “European countries can have air defence identification zones. Why can’t China? China’s method does not violate international law and accords with international practice”. Liu Jieyi, China’s United Nations Ambassador stated, "It's natural, it's indeed the right of every country to defend its airspace and also to make sure that its territorial integrity, its sovereignty are safeguarded".

Relations between China and Japan remain inflamed as sovereignty of the island territories remain disputed. The archipelago consists of five islands and three reefs and is known to China as the Diaoyu, and as the Senkaku to Japan. The islands became sovereign territory of Japan under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which demarcated Japanese land claims following World War 2. This was pursued by the US-Japan Okinawa Reversion Treaty of 1971 which returned the islands to Japan from the United States. The nationalisation of the islands by the Japanese government occurred in September 2012. China consequently argues the islands have been an element of its national territory since ancient times, operating as key fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan, a claim that has been repeated by Taiwan to bolster its claim to the islands. It is reported that the establishment of China’s new expansion of sovereign airspace was imposed unilaterally, to strengthen its claims to the disputed archipelago, creating more tension in the region with the increased possibility of military conflict.


“China flies fighter jets into disputed air defense zone; Japan remains defiant”, Jethro Mullen and Yoko Watasuki, CNN, 28th November 2013.

“Viewpoints: China air zone tensions”, BBC News, 28th November 2013.

“China military sends air patrols through new defense zone”, Ben Blanchard and Roberta Rampton, Reuters, 29th November 2013.

“China sends warplanes to new air defense zone after U.S, Japan, S.Korea incursions”, Simon Denyer and Chico Harlan, Washington Post, 29th November 2013.

“China sends warplanes into disputed airspace over East China Sea” The Guardian, 29th November 2013.