A platform in the Chunxiao gas field. (Photo/China Times)
China's Chunxiao gas field located in the East China Sea is currently covered within the air defense identification zone claimed by the Japanese government, according to a report in the Hangzhou-based Qianjiang Evening News on Nov. 5.
The report noted that Japan's air defense identification zone stretches to a region only 130 kilometers from Zhejiang province in eastern China. This not only covers the area in which the disputed Diaoyu islands (referred to as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyutai in Taiwan) are located, but it also includes the Chunxiao gas field in China's exclusive economic zone. Given Japan's defeat in World War II, the paper reasoned, it has no right to claim such a large airspace in its air defense identification zone.
The Japanese defense ministry stated that F-15J fighters of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force were ordered to scramble 308 times during the first six months of 2013 to intercept foreign aircraft intruding into its air defense identification zone. About 149 of those missions were flown to drive intruding Chinese aircraft away. Tokyo stated that the air defense identification zone was established by the United States in 1945 and this was handed over legally to Japan in 1969.
However, Yang Bojiang from the Chinese Academy of Social Science told the Qianjiang Evening News that the air defense identification zone had been expanded twice by the Japanese government, in 1972 and 2010. Zhang Zhaozhong, a Chinese military expert, said the zone is not equivalent to Japanese airspace and that for this reason it will never be recognized by China and Russia.
In addition, Zhang questioned whether the Japanese defense ministry has the right to order its fighters to shoot down Chinese drones inside the zone. On Dec. 19, 1987, four F-4EJ fighters of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force were ordered to intercept four Soviet Air Force Tu-16 bombers near the airspace of Okinawa. During the engagement, the Japanese fighters launched flares instead of real missiles against the intruders.
While Zhang believes that Japan will be extremely careful when engaging China given the risk of escalation, Yang holds a different view. He pointed out that the frontline commanders of the Japan Coast Guard and the Japan Self-Defense Force had been given more authority by Tokyo to engage foreign vessels and aircraft intruding into its exclusive economic zone and air defense identification zone. For this reason, there remains the possibility of tensions escalating into open conflict, according to Yang.
Yang Bojiang 楊伯江
Zhang Zhaozhong 張召忠