United States flies Two B-52s Through China's New Restricted Air Zone

  • Nov 27, 2013 11:26am GMT

From CNN - Tensions are running high in the skies between China and Japan -- and the United States is refusing to stay on the sidelines.

After Beijing upset the region by declaring a new air defense zone over a large part of the East China Sea, Washington responded by flying two unarmed B-52 bombers through the area.

The U.S. aircraft ignored China's new demands that planes that fly through the zone identify themselves and submit flight plans to Chinese authorities.

The delicate situation is a test of how China's increasingly assertive approach beyond its borders will play out against the U.S. government's promise to focus more on Asia and uphold commitments to its allies.

"China is busy designing and implementing a bolder foreign policy in light of an anticipated U.S. decline," Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, director of Asia-Pacific programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, writes in a commentary this week.

The air zone declaration is a clear example of the new approach of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been in power for about a year, according to Kleine-Ahlbrandt.

"Unlike his predecessors, Xi is making foreign policy with the mindset of a great power, increasingly probing U.S. commitments to its allies in the region and exploiting opportunities to change the status quo," she says.

But for the time being, the U.S. government is standing its ground in the East China Sea.

The United States and Japan have criticized Beijing's air defense announcement, saying it escalates tensions in the region and raises the risk of an incident. They say they won't recognize the new zone.

China hit back at those comments with strong words of its own, describing the U.S. and Japanese statements as unreasonable and unacceptable.

Washington underlined its opposition to the Chinese airspace claim by flying the B-52s through the zone on a training mission Monday -- despite Beijing's previous warning that it could take military measures against aircraft that don't comply with its demands for identification and flight plans.

After news of the flights emerged, the Chinese defense ministry responded cautiously Wednesday, saying it had monitored the planes' activity on the edge of the air defense zone. The statement held back from criticizing the U.S. action.

At a regular briefing later Wednesday, a journalist asked a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman if Beijing is concerned it will now be seen as a "paper tiger."

"I want to emphasize that the Chinese government has enough resolution and capability to safeguard the country's sovereignty and security," the spokesman, Qin Gang replied.

Full story at CNN.