In defiance of China’s claims, U.S. bombers fly across newly designated air defence zone

Days after China asserted greater military control over a swath of the East China Sea to bolster claims to a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move Tuesday as it flew two B-52 bombers through the area.

WASHINGTON — Days after China asserted greater military control over a swath of the East China Sea to bolster claims to a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move Tuesday as it flew two B-52 bombers through the area.

The U.S. said what it described as a training mission was not flown to respond to China’s latest military manoeuvre, yet the dramatic flights made clear that the U.S. will not recognize the new territorial claims that Beijing laid out over the weekend.

The two unarmed U.S. B-52 bombers took off from their home base in Guam and flew through China’s newly designated air defence zone, then returned to base, U.S. officials said. The bombers were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday there, the officials said, adding that the aircraft encountered no problems.

While the U.S. insisted the training mission was long-planned, it came just days after China issued a map and a new set of rules governing the zone, which includes a cluster of islands that are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

U.S. officials would not publicly acknowledge the flights on Tuesday, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said China’s move appeared to be an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

“This will raise regional tensions and increase the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents,” she told reporters.

China said Saturday that all aircraft entering the new air defence zone must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing’s orders. U.S. officials, however, said they have received no reaction to the bomber flights from the Chinese.

The bomber mission underscores Washington’s immediate rejection of China’s new rules. The U.S., which has hundreds of military aircraft based in the region, has said it has zero intention of complying. Japan likewise has called the zone invalid, unenforceable and dangerous, while Taiwan and South Korea, both close to the U.S., also rejected it.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not specifically comment Tuesday on the military flights.

“It continues to be our view that the policy announced by the Chinese over weekend is unnecessarily inflammatory and has a destabilizing impact on the region,” he told reporters travelling with Obama in Los Angeles.

The U.S. mission took place between about midnight Monday and 3 a.m. EST, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about the flights. The flights were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

China’s move to further assert its territorial claims over the islands is not expected to immediately spark confrontations with foreign aircraft. Yet it fits a pattern of putting teeth behind China’s claims and could potentially lead to dangerous encounters.

depending on how vigorously China enforces it — and how cautious it is when intercepting aircraft from Japan, the U.S. and other countries.

While enforcement is expected to start slowly, Beijing has a record of playing the long game, and analysts say they anticipate a gradual scaling-up of activity.

The declaration seems to have flopped as a foreign policy gambit. Analysts say Beijing may have miscalculated the forcefulness and speed with which its neighbours rejected its demands.

At least in the short term, the move undermines Beijing’s drive for regional influence, said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It doesn’t serve Chinese interests to have tensions with so many neighbours simultaneously,” she said.

Denny Roy, a security expert at the East-West Center in Hawaii, said China’s enforcement will likely be mostly rhetorical at first.

“The Chinese can now start counting and reporting what they call Japanese violations, while arguing that the Chinese side has shown great restraint by not exercising what they will call China’s right to shoot, and arguing further that China cannot be so patient indefinitely,” Roy said.

China also faces practical difficulties deriving from gaps in its air-to-air refuelling and early warning and control capabilities, presenting challenges in both detecting foreign aircraft and keeping its planes in the air, according to Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flightglobal magazine in Singapore.

Despite that, Beijing has shown no sign of backing down, just as it has continued to aggressively enforce its island claims in the South China Sea over the strong protests from its neighbours.

Tensions remain high with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea called Senkaku by Japan and Daioyu by China. Beijing was incensed by Japan’s September 2012 move to nationalize the chain, and Diaoyutai by Taiwan, which also claims them.

Since then, Chinese and Japanese coast guard ships have regularly confronted each other in surrounding waters. Japan further angered Beijing last month by threatening to shoot down unmanned Chinese drones that Beijing says it plans to send on surveillance missions over the islands.

Beijing’s move was greeted rapturously by hardline Chinese nationalists, underscoring Beijing’s need to assuage the most vocal facet of domestic public opinion. Strategically, it also serves to keep the island controversy alive in service of Beijing’s goal of forcing Tokyo to accept that the islands are in dispute — a possible first step to joint administration or unilateral Chinese control over them.

Beijing was also responding in kind to Japan’s strict enforcement of its own air defence zone in the East China Sea, said Dennis Blasko, an Asia analyst at think-tank CNA’s China Security Affairs Group and a former Army attache in Beijing.

The Japanese zone, in place since the 1960s, overlaps extensively with the newly announced Chinese zone. Japan, which keeps a public record of all foreign incursions into its zone, actually extended it westward by 14 miles in May.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

Most Read