On November 26, 2013, China stated that the majority of airspace between Japan and China belonged to them, including the air above Japanese-claimed and controlled islands called by the Japanese the Senkaku and called by the Chinese the Diaoyo, who also claim them. They made clear that any noncommercial flight in that region must notify Chinese air patrol or else face an unclear threat of “defensive emergency measures.”
Almost 48 hours later, the United States sent two unarmed American long-range B-52 bombers into the disputed area for an hour officially due to a “previously scheduled training mission” but pointedly not identifying themselves to China.
America wanted to show emphatically that they would not follow China’s new zoning areas, backing their ally Japan who stated that the zones are “invalid, unenforceable, and dangerous.” Taiwan and South Korea, allies of the United States and Japan as well, also said that they reject China’s authority over the airspace.
The Pentagon blatantly called China’s imposition regarding the air zones a “destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.” Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said that even though the air space claim might have been done because China wants to have more regional influence, she is sure that “it doesn’t serve China’s interests to have tensions with so many neighbors simultaneously.”
China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng made a statement saying that the American planes had been identified and observed throughout the entirety of their exercises in the region and that, although they did not take action at the time, China has “the ability to take effective management and control of the relevant airspace.”
Denny Roy, a security expert at the Hawaiian East-West Center, said that the way China is handling it is carefully controlled. “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.” Beijing experts have said that if there was further escalation of tension, military conflict was possible.
The White House urged China to handle territorial conflicts in a diplomatic rather than military manner. Josh Earnest, White House spokesman, stated that “we believe that those differences of opinion can and should be resolved diplomatically,” and that “it’s in the interest of all of the parties in the region to do that.”