U.S. Directly Challenges China's Air Defense Zone
A pair of American B-52 bombers flew over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea without informing Beijing, U.S. officials said Tuesday, in a direct challenge to China and its establishment of an expanded air-defense zone.
The planes flew out of Guam and entered the new Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone at about 7 p.m. Washington time Monday, according to a U.S. official.
Over the weekend, Beijing said it was expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the island chain, which is claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo but administered by Japan. The islands, the source of growing friction in the region, are known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Senkaku Islands in Japan.
The flight of the B-52s, based at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, were part of a long-planned exercise called Coral Lightening. The bombers weren't armed and weren't accompanied by escort planes.
But the routine flight took on new significance with China's weekend announcement, countering Beijing's attempts to strengthen its influence over the region. China had warned that aircraft that don't comply would be subject to a military response.
The U.S. official said that China didn't make contact with the B-52s as they flew over the islands. The planes returned to Guam after the exercise.
"The planes flew a pattern that included passing through the ADIZ," the official said. "The flight was without incident."
U.S. officials said they believe they had to challenge the ADIZ to make clear they don't consider the Chinese move to be appropriate. But they said they don't believe U.S. flights over the island will create a military conflict.
China is now requiring aircraft flying in the region to register their flight path with the foreign ministry, identify their transponder and their radio frequency. Col. Steve Warren, the Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. wouldn't comply with any of those requirements.
"The United States military will continue conducting flight operations in the region, including with our allies and partners," said Col. Warren said on Monday, prior to the B-52 flight. "We will not in anyway change how we conduct our operations as a result of the Chinese policy of establishing an ADIZ, an Air Defense Identification Zone."
Col. Warren said the U.S. didn't agree with China's decision to establish the zone, and the U.S. wouldn't comply with it while flying over the Senkaku islands.
"We see it as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region," Col. Warren said.