China accused Japan of threatening regional stability Wednesday, less than two weeks after Beijing expanded its air defense zone around a group of East China Sea islands claimed by both Japan and China.
“Our neighbor, Japan, made irresponsible remarks on this issue, with an attempt to play it up, create frictions and damage regional stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said as Vice President Joe Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
Mr. Hong accused Japan of “unilaterally and illegally” purchasing the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
China and Japan claim sovereignty over the five islands. A confrontation between the two Asian countries could embroil the U.S., which has a security treaty with Japan.
China announced Nov. 23 an expanded air defense zone around the islands, prompting the U.S. to conduct fly two B-52 bombers through the area in a show of support for Japan.
Japan has refused to recognize the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.
While the U.S. and Japan have expressed concern about China’s attempts to change the status quo in Asia, they have responded differently on how civilian airliners should operate in the new Chinese air defense zone.
The U.S. has asked its civilian airliners to inform the Chinese about flight plans. Japan has said its civilian aircraft should ignore the Chinese.
Since China’s announcement, 55 airlines from 19 countries have reported their flight plans to China, Mr. Hong said.
“All international flights, if operate normally in accordance with rules in the ADIZ, will not be affected at all and this is simply the reality,” he said.
He said the air defense zone is not a threat to regional peace but “a necessary measure to protect national sovereignty and territorial and airspace security.”
The U.S. does not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands, but considers them under Japanese administrative control and under the protection of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty.
Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Xi in Beijing was scheduled to last 45 minutes, but ran for two hours, an indicator of a protracted discussion over the air defense zone.
The Chinese government hopes the U.S. will show “understanding and respect” for China’s “justified actions,” Mr. Hong said.
China’s announcement has ratcheted up tensions with Japan that have been simmering over territorial disputes since early this year.
“The ADIZ announcement now brings Chinese military jets in direct competition with the Japanese,” said Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I’m not saying we’re going to war tomorrow, but you should calculate in your political risk calculation that it has gone up a notch or two in a significant direction and … It is a fairly tenuous situation.”