WASHINGTON — The U.S. dispatched a pair of bombers to fly over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, challenging a new claim by China that it controls an air defense zone over the area.
The aircraft flew out of Guam on Monday and entered the new “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” Pentagon officials said. China made no response, they said. The Air Force bases B-52 bombers in Guam, but Pentagon officials would not comment on the type of bomber used in the overflight.
The zone China claims covers part of the airspace over a group of islands known as the Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Both countries claim the islands, which Japan administers.
China announced Saturday that it would require anyone flying into the zone to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency or transponder information.
“As part of a long-planned training mission, two unarmed military aircraft transited airspace near the Senkaku islands,” Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.
“The training sortie was uneventful. This training sortie was part of our continued bomber presence in the region.”
Before the flights, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters that the military would not comply with China’s demands while flying over what the U.S. considers international waters and airspace.
“The U.S. military will continue conducting flight operations in the region, including with our allies and partners, and will not in any way change how we conduct our operations as a result of this new policy,” Warren said.
“We will not register a flight plan, we will not identify our transponder, our radio frequency and logo,” Warren said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the Chinese announcement was “unnecessarily inflammatory” and had a “destabilizing impact on the region.”
On Sunday, China conducted two aerial patrols over the area, prompting Japan to send two F-15 fighter jets to intercept them. No fighting ensued.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued statements Saturday saying they were “deeply concerned” by China’s claim of the air defense zone.
“This unilateral action constitutes an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Kerry said.
Hagel reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the mutual defense treaty with Japan and said the U.S. considered the Senkaku islands to fall under that treaty.
At a news conference Monday in Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced what he termed “irresponsible accusations against China.”