UNDER pressure from the government, Japan's two biggest airlines have stopped providing flight plans for planes passing through China's new air defence zone over the East China Sea.
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA), citing concerns about passenger safety, had said they would comply with new rules after Beijing announced the setting up of the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) last Saturday.
But on Monday, Transport Minister Akihiro Ota urged the airlines to ignore the ADIZ, and ministry officials kept up the pressure via the civil aviation authorities.
Yesterday, both airlines said they stopped sending flight information to the Chinese authorities.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, keeping up Japan's challenge of the validity of China's ADIZ, declared yesterday that Japanese military jets would also ignore Chinese demands.
"China's creation (of the ADIZ) is a one-sided act... that cannot be recognised," he told reporters.
The new ADIZ overlaps Japan's own zone and includes a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Bilateral tensions ratcheted up after Tokyo bought three of the disputed islands from their Japanese owner last year, effectively nationalising the islands.
Since then, both sides have deployed naval vessels to the area and Japan has scrambled military jets in response to the presence of Chinese military aircraft near the islands.
The new ADIZ has drawn reactions from other countries. Australia summoned the Chinese ambassador on Monday to express its concern over the zone, and called China's move "unhelpful".
Yesterday, China's Foreign Ministry said Australia's statements were unacceptable, and warned of damaged relations between the two countries.
"It is completely a mistake for Australia to make irresponsible remarks on China's establishment of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, and the Chinese side will not accept it," ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement. "China urges Australia to correct its mistake immediately to prevent damaging Sino-Australian relations."
China is Australia's biggest trading partner, and new Prime Minister Tony Abbott plans to fast-track a proposed free trade agreement with Beijing. At the same time, Mr Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop want to boost ties with Japan.
Ms Bishop yesterday denied that her country was taking sides, and said she plans to raise her concerns during a forthcoming visit to China.
Australia's national carrier, Qantas, said it would not be affected by China's move and that its planes fly only within 200 nautical miles of the zone.
"We do not fly through any of the proclaimed Chinese air defence zones," a Qantas spokesman told The Straits Times.
The Philippines has yet to issue an official response to the air defence zone, but drew attention instead to the dispatch of China's first aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, which Manila said raises tensions.
Manila and Beijing are locked in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Philippine Airlines said it had 33 flights a week to South Korea that are affected by China's ADIZ. A senior airline official would only say that the airline is "observing the status quo".
Additional reporting by Jonathan Pearlman and Raul Dancel