PUSHING back against growing criticism of its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, China said yesterday the move did not crimp aviation freedom or raise tensions in the contested region.
Beijing also clarified that the recently declared zone, which overlaps with those of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, was neither a no-fly zone nor territorial air space.
"This is a necessary move for China to defend its sovereignty, territorial and airspace security as well as to help maintain flight safety in international airspace and is in accordance with international law and practice," the Chinese Defence Ministry said in a lengthy statement on its website.
The Chinese clarification came as US Vice-President Joe Biden, during a meeting with Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in Tokyo yesterday, criticised Beijing for a move that "has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation".
The US also joined its security partner Japan in accusing China of unilaterally changing the status quo in the East China Sea.
But Chinese officials ignored the statements and instead said China was only exercising its sovereign right in setting up an ADIZ.
Speaking at a security forum in Beijing yesterday, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin urged China's neighbours and the US not to "overreact", South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
At a routine press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated that China was within its rights to set up the zone. He said that China is not the only country to have an ADIZ. About 20 others, including the US, have them.
It is also not the first to require foreign aircraft entering its ADIZ to give prior notice, he said. Canada, India, South Korea and Thailand all have similar rules.
Currently, most airlines flying into the Chinese air zone have complied and notified China, Mr Hong said, noting that about 30 airlines, 10 countries and three regions are complying.
The zone does not change navigation freedom in the skies over the East China Sea, he added.
Commenting on Mr Biden's suggestion that China and Japan set up a crisis hotline, he accused Tokyo of being "hypocritical" and said it did not really want dialogue over their overlapping air zones.
Chinese officials also rebutted the charge that China had unilaterally changed the status quo and blamed Japan instead for nationalising the disputed Diaoyu/ Senkaku isles in September last year.
"What I want to stress is that China is not the one that has raised tensions in the region, but some other country has exploited the situation to benefit itself," Mr Hong said, referring to Japan.
Likewise, Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said Beijing had been forced to make "necessary responses" as a result of the actions of "a certain country".
"The truth is, they have set up an ADIZ as early as 1969 and later expanded this many times... They have no right to criticise China's legal and reasonable behaviour," he said.
Yesterday, ahead of Mr Biden's visit to Beijing from today to tomorrow, Mr Hong also expressed hopes that China and the US can make new progress in their relations by deepening trust and curbing differences.