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Chinese navy tests Japan's sea limits

As tensions over territory rise, China’s increasingly assertive navy is getting better at projecting power well beyond the country’s maritime borders. Reuters' David Lague explains.

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Beijing, China: China has insisted it has the ability to enforce its newly-declared air zone over islands disputed with Japan, despite Beijing's reluctance to intervene after American B-52 bombers entered the area.

The flight of the giant long-range US Stratofortress planes was a clear warning that Washington would push back against what it considers an aggressive stance.

While US defence chief Chuck Hagel praised Tokyo's restraint, officials indicated Vice President Joe Biden would personally convey America's "concerns" about the matter during a visit to the Chinese capital next week.

A B-52 Stratofortress

A B-52 Stratofortress Photo: AP

Qin Gang, the foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing told reporters on Wednesday: "The Chinese government has the will and ability to defend our national sovereignty and security."

"We also have the ability to exercise effective control over the East Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)," he said.

The area in the East China Sea includes Japan-administered islands at the heart of a tense dispute between the two neighbours, known as Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu in Beijing.

A photo illustration shows a graphic depicting a Chinese national flag flying atop of the disputed islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, being seen on the front page of Chinese search engine website Baidu, on a computer screen in Beijing.

A Chinese national flag flying atop of the disputed islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, being seen on the front page of Chinese search engine website Baidu, on a computer screen in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

A Chinese demand over the weekend that aircraft submit flight plans when traversing it triggered a storm of diplomatic protest and the Pentagon said the B-52s did not comply.

But in a statement, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said: "The Chinese military monitored the entire process, carried out identification in a timely manner, and ascertained the type of US aircraft."

Mr Biden, scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials during his visit, was poised to address the matter head-on.

A double page advertisement regarding the territorial dispute between China and Japan over the uninhabited group of islands in the East China Sea -- known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

A double page advertisement regarding the territorial dispute between China and Japan over the uninhabited group of islands in the East China Sea -- known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Photo: Reuters

"Clearly, the visit to China creates an opportunity for the vice president to discuss directly with policymakers in Beijing this issue, to convey our concerns directly and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time," a senior US administration official told reporters.

The Chinese ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face defensive emergency measures.

The manoeuvres have raised fears of an accidental clash but analysts stress that both sides have commercial incentives to avoid conflict.

State-run media say it extends as close to Japan as Tokyo's zone approaches China.

The B-52 flight was also a signal of US support for Japan, with which Washington has a security pact.

The American ambassador to Tokyo, Caroline Kennedy, said: "The Japanese can see every day that America is here for them as a partner in the defence of Japan."

Japanese airlines, under pressure from Tokyo, stopped following China's new rules Wednesday, after initially complying.

The US bombers -- which were unarmed -- took off from Guam on Monday on a scheduled flight in what American defence officials insist was a routine exercise.

AFP