U.S. tells airlines to take precautions over East China Sea

China-Japan ADIZsLesley Wroughton reports for Reuters that on Nov. 27, 2013, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki advised U.S. airlines to take necessary steps to operate safely over the East China Sea as tensions between ally Japan and China increase over new airspace defense zone rules imposed by Beijing.

Referring to China’s recently declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea requiring airplanes flying near the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islands to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, Psaki said in a daily briefing, “We’re attempting to determine whether the new rules apply to civil aviation and commercial air flight. In the meantime U.S. air carriers are being advised to take all steps they consider necessary to operate safely in the East China Sea. Obviously the safety of airplanes is key … and we’re looking into what this means.”

China’s unilateral new rules mean aircraft have to report flight plans to China, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries and display clear markings of their nationality and registration.

Asked whether U.S. carriers would advise Chinese officials of their flight plans, Psaki said: “I wouldn’t go that far, we’re still looking at it.”

A day before on Nov. 26, Psaki had said that the United States, which has long encouraged ally Japan and China to resolve the territorial dispute through diplomacy, did not apply its air defense identification zone procedures to foreign aircraft and neither should others. “The United States does not apply that procedure to foreign aircraft so it is certainly one we don’t think others should apply,” Psaki said.

That same day, the United States defied China’s new rules by flying two unarmed B-52 bombers through the contested airspace. Pentagon officials said the bombers were on a routine training mission.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns is set to meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin in Washington on Wednesday. Psaki said the meeting was planned long in advance. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also will raise the issue during a visit to Beijing next week. Biden’s visit is part of a week-long trip to China, Japan and South Korea.

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