Japan, China in war of words over airspace

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TOKYO (AP) - Japan and China are exchanging angry words over a territorial dispute, with each country summoning the other's ambassador and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling a newly declared Chinese maritime air defense zone dangerous and unenforceable.

The United States is weighing in on Japan's side. White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday, said: "We believe that this announcement from the Chinese government was unnecessarily inflammatory. There are regional disputes in that part of the world, and those are disputes that should be resolved diplomatically."

On Saturday, Beijing issued a map of the zone and a set of rules that say all aircraft must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing's orders.

Abe told a parliamentary session Monday that the zone alters the state of affairs in the East China Sea and escalates a tense situation.

"The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever for Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace," Abe said. "It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well."

He also slammed China for showing the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, as Chinese territory in the zone.

Japanese airlines haven't changed flight paths, but they say they have started notifying China of flights entering the new zone. The affected flights are those to Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Southeast Asia, depending on the weather.

Since taking office almost a year ago, Abe has been spearheading a move to step up Japan's defense capability, citing threats from China's growing maritime and military presence in the region. Japan has had a similar zone since the 1960s.

Also Monday, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki summoned Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua to protest the move in person. In Beijing, Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang met with Japanese Ambassador Kitera Masato to complain.

"The Japanese side is not entitled to make irresponsible remarks and malicious accusations against China," Zheng said, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

China says the zone's aim is to defend its sovereignty and the security of its airspace and land. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement that it does not affect freedom of overflight.

South Korea also complained Monday about the Chinese zone, which includes the airspace above a set of submerged rocks that are controlled by Seoul but also claimed by Beijing.

South Korea's Defense Ministry summoned China's military attache in Seoul, saying the zone is unacceptable because it was drawn unilaterally, according to ministry officials. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said that Seoul won't notify China when its planes pass through the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have both said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" about China's action. China's Foreign Ministry complained to the United States over its "irresponsible remarks."

The U.S. doesn't take a position on who has sovereignty over the islands, but recognizes they are under Japanese administration.


Associated Press writers Yuriko Nagano in Tokyo, Louise Watt and Chris Bodeen in Beijing, Jim Kuhnhenn aboard Air Force One and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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