Japan lodges strong protest over new China 'air defence zone' over disputed islands

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets leaving their base in Shanghai. -- PHOTO: AFP
Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets leaving their base in Shanghai. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Saturday lodged a strong protest with China after Beijing announced it was setting up an "air defence identification zone" over the East China Sea that includes disputed islands, the foreign ministry said.

Mr Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, made the protest by phone to Mr Han Zhiqiang, Minister at the Chinese Embassy in Japan, the ministry said in a statement.

He said Japan could "never accept the zone set up by China" as it includes the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, the statement said.

China also claims the islands, calling them Diaoyu.

Mr Ihara also told the Chinese side that such move by Beijing would "escalate" current bilateral tensions over the islands, branding it "very dangerous".

Japan's Vice-Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki plans to summon Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua as early as possible on Monday and state Japan's position on the matter, Kyodo News reported.

Along with the creation of the zone in the East China Sea, the Chinese Defence Ministry released a set of aircraft identification rules that must be followed by all planes entering the area, under penalty of intervention by the military.

Aircraft are expected to provide their flight plan, clearly mark their nationality, and maintain two-way radio communication allowing them to "respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries" from the Chinese authorities.

Sino-Japanese relations have remained at a low ebb for more than a year as a result of the bitter territorial row, which was revived when Japan nationalised three of the archipelago's five islands in September 2012.