Airlines flying through 'defence zone' will have to alert China

Asian aviation officials said airlines would have to inform China of their flight plans before entering airspace over the East China Sea, in effect forcing carriers to acknowledge China's authority over a newly declared "air defence identification zone".

China controversially declared the identification zone on Saturday, raising hackles particularly in Japan, which disputes China's sovereignty over the area.

China published coordinates for the zone on the weekend. The area, about two-thirds the size of the United Kingdom, covers most of the East China Sea and the skies over a group of uninhabited islands at the centre of a bitter row between Beijing and Tokyo.

While China said the new rules would not affect "normal operations" for international flights, it added that it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly.

Japan and ally the United States have sharply criticised the move, warning of an escalation into the "unexpected" if Beijing enforces the rules. China's defence ministry said today it had lodged protests with both countries' embassies in Beijing, saying such remarks were unfounded and irresponsible.

A transport ministry official in Seoul said South Korean planes flying in the new zone would notify China's civil aviation authorities of their flight plans.

Yi Shin-Juang, deputy director of the air-traffic service division of the Taiwan Civil Aeronautics Administration, said Taiwanese carriers would issue similar notifications, but would not be required to adjust flight paths.

An official at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau said Japanese airlines flying through the region to non-mainland Chinese destinations would likely need to inform China of their plans. "Airlines have been advised to take greater care in the area," the bureau said.

Korean Air said China's proclamation meant flight plans would have to be delivered to Chinese authorities but the routes its pilots took would not be affected.

Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings said the zone had not affected their flights through the area.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the the Chinese air force conducted its first patrol over the zone on Saturday itself. The patrol included early warning aircraft and fighters, it said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said China was forcing other countries to conform to its rules. "It's a unilateral step, changing the status quo in the East China Sea," Abe said in parliament on Monday, keeping up the chorus of criticism from Tokyo.

"It escalates the situation and could lead to an unexpected occurrence of accidents in the airspace. It is an extremely dangerous measure and our government has strongly expressed its concerns about it."

China's defence ministry said it was within the country's right to set up the zone.

"Japan's remarks are unjustified - China will never accept them," spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement.

"We reiterate that the purpose of China's approach is to defend national sovereignty and territorial airspace security, maintain the order of airspace flight, and is an effective exercise of our right of self defense," Yang said.