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U.S. B-52 bombers fly through China's air defense zone

By Christopher Bodeen & Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:25 p.m. HST, Nov 26, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Days after China asserted greater military control over a swath of the East China Sea to bolster claims to a cluster of disputed islands, the U.S. defied the move today as it flew two B-52 bombers through the area.

The U.S. said what it described as a training mission was not flown to respond to China's latest military maneuver, yet the dramatic flights made clear that the U.S. will not recognize the new territorial claims that Beijing laid out over the weekend.

The two unarmed U.S. B-52 bombers took off from their home base in Guam and flew through China's newly designated air defense zone, then returned to base, U.S. officials said. The bombers were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday there, the officials said, adding that the aircraft encountered no problems.

While the U.S. insisted the training mission was long-planned, it came just days after China issued a map and a new set of rules governing the zone, which includes a cluster of islands that are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

U.S. officials would not publicly acknowledge the flights today, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said China's move appeared to be an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

"This will raise regional tensions and increase the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents," she told reporters.

China said Saturday that all aircraft entering the new air defense zone must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing's orders. U.S. officials, however, said they have received no reaction to the bomber flights from the Chinese.

The bomber mission underscores Washington's immediate rejection of China's new rules. The U.S., which has hundreds of military aircraft based in the region, has said it has zero intention of complying. Japan likewise has called the zone invalid, unenforceable and dangerous, while Taiwan and South Korea, both close to the U.S., also rejected it.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not specifically comment today on the military flights. "It continues to be our view that the policy announced by the Chinese over weekend is unnecessarily inflammatory and has a destabilizing impact on the region," he told reporters traveling with Obama in Los Angeles.

The U.S. mission took place between about midnight Monday and 3 a.m. EST, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about the flights. The flights were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

China's move to further assert its territorial claims over the islands is not expected to immediately spark confrontations with foreign aircraft. Yet it fits a pattern of putting teeth behind China's claims and could potentially lead to dangerous encounters depending on how vigorously China enforces it -- and how cautious it is when intercepting aircraft from Japan, the U.S. and other countries.

While enforcement is expected to start slowly, Beijing has a record of playing the long game, and analysts say they anticipate a gradual scaling-up of activity.

The declaration seems to have flopped as a foreign policy gambit. Analysts say Beijing may have miscalculated the forcefulness and speed with which its neighbors rejected its demands.

At least in the short term, the move undermines Beijing's drive for regional influence, said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"It doesn't serve Chinese interests to have tensions with so many neighbors simultaneously," she said.

Denny Roy, a security expert at the East-West Center in Hawaii, said China's enforcement will likely be mostly rhetorical at first.

"The Chinese can now start counting and reporting what they call Japanese violations, while arguing that the Chinese side has shown great restraint by not exercising what they will call China's right to shoot, and arguing further that China cannot be so patient indefinitely," Roy said.

China also faces practical difficulties deriving from gaps in its air-to-air refueling and early warning and control capabilities, presenting challenges in both detecting foreign aircraft and keeping its planes in the air, according to Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flightglobal magazine in Singapore.

Despite that, Beijing has shown no sign of backing down, just as it has continued to aggressively enforce its island claims in the South China Sea over the strong protests from its neighbors.

Tensions remain high with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea called Senkaku by Japan and Daioyu by China. Beijing was incensed by Japan's September 2012 move to nationalize the chain, and Diaoyutai by Taiwan, which also claims them.

Since then, Chinese and Japanese coast guard ships have regularly confronted each other in surrounding waters. Japan further angered Beijing last month by threatening to shoot down unmanned Chinese drones that Beijing says it plans to send on surveillance missions over the islands.

Beijing's move was greeted rapturously by hardline Chinese nationalists, underscoring Beijing's need to assuage the most vocal facet of domestic public opinion. Strategically, it also serves to keep the island controversy alive in service of Beijing's goal of forcing Tokyo to accept that the islands are in dispute -- a possible first step to joint administration or unilateral Chinese control over them.

Beijing was also responding in kind to Japan's strict enforcement of its own air defense zone in the East China Sea, said Dennis Blasko, an Asia analyst at think tank CNA's China Security Affairs Group and a former Army attache in Beijing.

The Japanese zone, in place since the 1960s, overlaps extensively with the newly announced Chinese zone. Japan, which keeps a public record of all foreign incursions into its zone, actually extended it westward by 14 miles in May.


Bodeen reported from Beijing. Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

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primowarrior wrote:
I wonder how the Chinese will respond?
on November 26,2013 | 08:31AM
false wrote:
China will only protest for their domestic consumption. President Obama, shrewdly or accidentally, made a great choice in appointing Carolyn Kennedy as ambassador to Japan. Though she is a neophyte in politics, her father's name will cause China to be extremely cautious since his popularity will carry over.
on November 26,2013 | 09:03AM
serious wrote:
Another Bay of Pigs??
on November 26,2013 | 09:49AM
Anonymous wrote:
Same as how they've always responded: By selling us $1.99 umbrellas via Walmart.
on November 26,2013 | 09:21AM
Denominator wrote:
Lucky it wasn't those Korean pilots - We Too Low and Sum Ting Wong!
on November 26,2013 | 08:39AM
Pocho wrote:
That's an US American B-52, not manned by Korean Natiionals
on November 26,2013 | 08:43AM
Anonymous wrote:
Now they can just roll up into Chinese territory with an American made GMC and they can't do anything about that as well!
on November 26,2013 | 09:24AM
Anonymous wrote:
Pretty sure there's no Wong in Korea naming. Hell, now that I think about it, there's no Low either.
on November 26,2013 | 09:22AM
Anonymous wrote:
Stirrin' the pot there, eh?
on November 26,2013 | 09:21AM
808warriorfan wrote:
Yeah Baby..."The BUFF" aka B-52
on November 26,2013 | 09:28AM
hawaiikone wrote:
The initial rumblings of eventual confrontation.
on November 26,2013 | 09:48AM
saveparadise wrote:
History dictates war. Not if but when and where.
on November 26,2013 | 09:51AM
ryan02 wrote:
In hindsight, the U.S. probably shouldn't have stopped Japan from taking over China all those decades ago. It cost a lot of American lives, a lot of Japanese lives, and indirectly 30 million Chinese lives (the number of Chinese killed by their own communists). Sometimes I think humanity is the worst thing that happened to the earth.
on November 26,2013 | 09:55AM
cojef wrote:
Provocations begets problems that we do not need. We are winding down the Afghanistan debacle and do not need another confrontation. These alliances we have around world is a constant source of pain to the American people. Territorial problems are issue best left to the parties involved. We should stop meddling in other peoples problems.. Sick and tried of being engaged in wars and wasting our young men's lives.
on November 26,2013 | 10:05AM
HD36 wrote:
Perhaps this is a little warning to China since they announced last week, they will no longer buy (loan) any more US Treasury Bonds. Also, China is seriously threatening the dollars status as the world's reserve currency through bilateral trade agreements and joint ventures with Saudi Arabia. The gold is moving East. America, Europe,and Japan are stuck with a fiat monetary expansion that can't be stopped. War is the only alternative for the Western elite to remain in power.
on November 26,2013 | 02:06PM
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