China Attempts Airspace Grab

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China has declared an airspace defense zone over the East China Sea above territory claimed by South Korea and Japan, prompting criticism from Japan, the U.S., and South Korea, and some direct challenges in recent days. China declared the zone, Saturday, saying it would police the airspace. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have refused to recognize the air zone, which covers a group of islands claimed by both China and Japan and also contains South Korean interests. The U.S.’s involvement includes obligations to Japan, which, by treaty, it must defend from attack. China’s declaration was not spontaneous and came just days after U.S. bomber activity in the disputed area.

Days prior to China’s declaration of the airspace defense zone, American B-52 bombers flew through the region in defiance of China’s posturing. Specifics regarding the number of aircraft, and the number and time of the flights, have not been released. Thursday, the Japanese government said the Chinese government had not been notified of the flights and that China had not reacted to intercept the bombers. South Korea has also announced that it operated aircraft in the zone on Wednesday, without notifying China. Chinese officials say they monitored the aircraft and have since sent fighter jets to patrol the area. But China’s apparent failure to defend the zone with force has led to speculation that the move is part of a broader agenda to appropriate the islands that lie beneath it, which have been the subject of earlier territorial disputes.