The Diaoyu Islands are a group of uninhabited islands located roughly due east of mainland China, northeast of Taiwan, west of Okinawa Island, and north of the southwestern end of the Ryukyu Islands. They are currently controlled by Japan, which calls them Senkaku Islands. Both China and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the islands.
US slams China's Diaoyu air defence identification zone as 'destabilising'
Secretary of State John Kerry 'deeply concerned' over China's new air defence identification zone and reiterates US determination to defend its ally Japan
The United States has expressed strong concerns to China over an escalation in regional tensions in the East China Sea, saying it increased the risk of an incident.
The White House, State Department and Pentagon issued statements after China bolstered its claim to islands that Japan says it owns, warning that it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in airspace over them.
"We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing," said Secretary of State John Kerry.
In a move that Japan branded as "very dangerous," China said on Saturday it was setting up the "air defence identification zone", which encompasses the islands, to guard against "potential air threats". On Saturday afternoon, China sent two fighter planes to carry out a patrol mission in the newly established zone, which prompted Japan to scramble fighter jets.
The People's Liberation Army Daily, the mouthpiece newspaper for China's military, said yesterday the army had the capacity and resolve to safeguard China's territorial sovereignty and national interests.
The White House said the "escalatory development" increased regional tensions and affected US interests and those of its allies.
"We have conveyed our strong concerns to China and are co-ordinating closely with allies and partners in the region," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
The Pentagon said China's move was "a destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region." It added the Chinese announcement would not "change how the United States conducts military operations in the region".
Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel reiterated on Saturday that the Senkaku islands - which the Chinese claim and call the Diaoyus - fall under the US-Japan security treaty, meaning that Washington would defend its ally Tokyo if the area was attacked. The defence chief made it clear that the US, which stations more than 70,000 troops in Japan and South Korea, would not respect China's declaration of control over the zone.
Former Japanese foreign minister Masahiko Komura, speaking as deputy head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Tokyo should "keep on doing what it has been doing in a straightforward manner" apart from making protests to Beijing.
"At the same time, defence officials of the two countries must keep in close communication with each other in order to prevent a touch-and-go situation from arising under any circumstances," Komura said.
Tensions in the region are expected to be a topic of discussion when US Vice-President Joe Biden travels to China, Japan and South Korea early next month.
The United States has not taken a position on sovereignty issues in the regional maritime disputes, but has stressed the need for the free flow of commerce, a reduction in tensions, and peace and stability.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse