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China cautions foreign planes entering defense zone

BEIJING--China said Friday it has begun issuing warnings to foreign military planes entering its self-declared air defense zone over the East China Sea amid heightened tensions with its neighbors, especially Japan.

Bitter rhetoric between the neighbors has spiked since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a late-December visit to a war shrine in Tokyo that outraged Beijing. Abe this week compared the tense relationship to the pre-World War I rivalry between Britain and Germany. Japanese officials say the comment was meant as a warning to avoid war.

Chinese state media quoted Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying several kinds of Chinese planes recently patrolled the sweeping zone that was declared in November. He said the planes identified several foreign military aircraft, flew alongside them and issued them warnings. He didn't identify the planes or say when the patrol was conducted.

The zone is a “purely defensive measure that conforms to international practice,” Shen said.

The U.S., Japan and other countries denounced the zone's declaration in November as provocative and said they would ignore China's demands that their military aircraft announce flight plans, identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions. China has said it would take unspecified measures against aircraft that disobey.

In a policy address Friday in Tokyo, Abe reiterated Japan's position, saying it would “not tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force.” He said Japan would beef up its defensive capabilities “in order to defend the safety in the southwestern region, as well as the vast sea and airspace around Japan.”

China's Foreign Ministry said Abe's World War I comments made Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and his visit to the shrine were signs of belligerence. “The Japanese leader, while paying lip-service to a positive peace policy, is effectively adopting a policy of military expansion and preparation for war,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Friday.

However, Japan's Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga said Abe was drawing the Britain-Germany analogy as a warning for the two Asian countries not to repeat the same mistake of being drawn into a war despite their extensive trade ties.

Suga also told reporters that he is aware of reports that China had issued warnings to foreign aircraft, but declined to confirm them. “I don't understand what China means by voice-warning,” Suga said. Japan's defense ministry has not reported any “abnormal flights” by Chinese military jets since Beijing declared its air zone, he said.

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