US to continue flights in defense zone claimed by China

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The islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, are seen in this 2012 photo. Both China and Japan claim sovereignty over the area, whose waters are rich in oil, natural gas and fish. Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

The U.S. won't change its flight operations to comply with China's newly claimed air defense zone in the East China Sea, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

"We will not in any way change how we conduct our operations," Army Colonel Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon. U.S. pilots won't register their flight plans or identify their transponder or frequency, Warren said

China announced an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea effective Nov. 23 and said its military will take "defensive emergency measures" if aircraft enter the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves.

"We see it as destabilizing," Warren said of China's decision. He said U.S. pilots always maintain the ability to defend themselves.

China's declared intent to protect an air zone encompassing islands contested by Japan has escalated tensions between Asia's two largest economies. The disputed islands are known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japan.

Japan's foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, said China has engaged in "profoundly dangerous acts that unilaterally change the status quo," according to a statement issued over the weekend.

While the U.S. has said it isn't taking sides in the dispute over the contested islands, the U.S. is a treaty ally of Japan and in October set a road map for defense cooperation over the next 20 years.

"˜Unilateral action'

"This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of China's decision in a statement over the weekend.

The Foreign Affairs office of the Chinese Defense Ministry complained to the U.S. embassy's military attache yesterday over the U.S.'s "erroneous remarks" on the air zone, according to a statement on the ministry's website.

China didn't specify what measures it might take if others don't abide by its rules.

A map and details of the air zone's coordinates were posted on the Chinese Defense Ministry's website.

"This is a necessary measure taken by China in exercising its self-defense right," ministry spokesman Yang Yajun said in a statement. "It is not directed against any specific country or target."

The rules include reporting flight plans to China's Foreign Ministry or civil aviation authorities and providing radio and logo identification or aircraft, according to the ministry.

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