BEIJING - China insisted Wednesday it has the capacity to enforce its controversial newly-declared air zone over islands disputed with Japan, despite Beijing's reluctance to intervene after American B-52 bombers flouted its rules.
The flight of the giant long-range Stratofortress planes was a clear warning that Washington would push back against what it considers an aggressive stance by Beijing in the region.
Beijing's non-confrontational response elicited scorn from some Chinese netizens as weak in the face of defiance, but analysts said it may never have intended to impose the zone by force.
"The Chinese government has the will and ability to defend our national sovereignty and security," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular press briefing.
"We also have the ability to exercise effective control over the East Sea Air Defence 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.
China's demand 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."
The statement did not include any expression of regret or anger.
The Chinese ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication, or face defensive emergency measures.
State-run media say it extends as close to Japan as Tokyo's zone approaches China.
Japan, the United States and several other governments condemned the zone after it was announced over the weekend, and the US State Department reiterated Tuesday that it appeared to be an attempt to "unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea".
The B-52 flight was also a signal of US support for Japan, with which Washington has a security pact.