Analysts fear China may have miscalculated international reaction but cannot step back after raising domestic expectations,
The islands at the centre of the air defence zone dispute.
Tensions rose further on Thursday over China’s declaration of an air defence zone over disputed regions of the East China Sea after it sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft to patrol the area.
The state news agency Xinhua announced the patrols after Japan, South Korea and the US had all sent military aircraft through the zone in a clear challenge to the Chinese measure. Beijing had previously responded only by saying it had monitored all the flights.
Shen Jinke, a spokesman for the Chinese air force, described Thursday’s dispatch of aircraft as “a defensive measure and in line with international common practices” in the Xinhua report.
The article said China was “on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats” to protect the security of its airspace.
Many countries have similar zones requiring aircraft approaching their territorial airspace to identify themselves, and China has said it created the area to defend its national security. But its zone is controversial because it includes the skies over islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are the subject of a long-running territorial dispute.
Japan has administrative control of the island group and the area overlaps with zones established by Japan and South Korea.
Many analysts think China is laying down a long-term marker, but did not anticipate the forceful response it has received from the US as well as Japan.
“I would be inclined to think it’s a miscalculation – but there’s a kind of strategic logic to it,” said Rory Medcalf of Australia’s Lowy Institute.
“I assume there will have been voices [internally] who wondered at the wisdom of it, but [the outcome] depends as well on how the rest of us react.”
Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Asia-Pacific director at the US Institute of Peace, said: “They have got huge pushback and I don’t think they expected that.”
But she said the creation of its zone had its own momentum.
“The danger in the announcement is that it empowers the People’s Liberation Army, maritime agencies and netizens [internet users] to hold the government to account,” she said.
“Within the system, it empowers actors to go out and do what they think is best for their own interests … Now people are transgressing the zone, they have to make it look to the domestic audience like they are serious. They have given birth to internal pressures.”
US vice-president Joe Biden will press Chinese leaders on the issue when he visits Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul on a trip beginning this Sunday. It was initially intended to focus on economic issues but is now expected to be dominated by tensions over the East China Sea.
Earlier, Shi Yinhong, an expert on international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, warned that Japanese flights through the zone had increased the risk of escalation from confrontation to conflict.
He said: “I think China will take flexible measures towards any aeroplane that flies over the zone, and that will still be compatible with China’s declarations.
“America is not our direct enemy, and South Korea is our friend. But Japanese armed aircraft would be a different story. If they dare to come into China’s declared zone, the Chinese air force will take action.”
The state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times warned in an editorial on Thursday that China was willing to engage “in a protracted confrontation with Japan” to “beat its willpower and ambition to instigate strategic confrontation”.
Official statements have said that the zone does not target any particular country.
But tapping into populist anti-Japanese sentiment, the Global Times wrote: “All the criticism and provocation will not pose a real challenge for the newly created ADIZ. It is a fact that China has already established its ADIZ over the East China Sea.
“Maybe an imminent conflict will be waged between China and Japan. As a staunch supporter of Tokyo, Washington is expected to refrain from confronting Beijing directly in the East China Sea, at least for now. Canberra and Seoul just chimed in …
“If the US does not go too far, we will not target it in safeguarding our air defence zone. What we should do at present is to firmly counter provocative actions from Japan. Australia, having no real conflict with China now, can be ignored at the moment.”
The newspaper is known for running hawkish pieces that do not always reflect official policy, but reflect the view of some within the power elites.
Posted By MANTOSH PAL