US airlines give China flight plans for new defence zone

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON  (Reuters) – Two of the biggest U.S. airlines, American and Delta, have notified Chinese authorities of flight plans when travelling through an air defence zone Beijing has declared over the East China Sea, in line with US government advice.

The United States said on Friday it expected US carriers to operate in line with so-called notices to airmen issued by foreign countries, although it added that the decision did “not indicate US government acceptance of China’s requirements.”

A spokesman for Delta Airlines said yesterday it had been complying with the Chinese requests for flight plans for the past week. American Airlines said it was also complying, but declined to say for how long it had done so.

Airline industry officials said the US government generally expects that US carriers operating internationally to comply with notices issued by foreign countries.

In contrast, two major airlines in Japan, America’s close ally, have agreed with the Japanese government that they would fly through the zone without notifying China.

China published coordinates for the zone last weekend. The area, about two-thirds the size of the United Kingdom, covers most of the East China Sea and the skies over a group of uninhabited islands at the centre of a bitter row between Beijing and Tokyo.

Beijing wants all foreign aircraft passing through the zone – including passenger planes – to identify themselves to Chinese authorities.

China’s declaration of the zone represents a historic challenge by the emerging new world power to the United States, which has dominated the region for decades.

The United States, Japan and South Korea have defied the Chinese move by flying military aircraft, including giant US B-52 bombers, through the zone without informing Beijing.

An official of the US administration said China’s action appeared to be a unilateral attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea, which could “increase the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents.”

“We urge the Chinese to exercise caution and restraint, and we are consulting with Japan and other affected parties throughout the region,” the official said.

US Vice President Joe Biden is due to visit China, Japan and South Korea next week, and will try to ease tensions over the issue, senior US officials said.

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