The United States has urged commercial airlines to comply with the requirements of China's new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) even as US military aircraft will continue to fly through the area without prior notification.
But the State Department stressed that the directive should not be construed as US acceptance of the controversial zone, which includes East China Sea islands being disputed by China and Japan. Washington "generally expects" US carriers that operate internationally to heed notices issued by foreign countries.
The statement came after China scrambled fighter jets for the first time to patrol the zone last Friday.
"Our expectation of operations by US carriers… does not indicate US government acceptance of China's requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ," the State Department said yesterday in the statement titled "China's Declared ADIZ - Guidance for US Air Carriers".
The move is a stark departure from the actions taken by close ally Japan, which told its two biggest airlines to ignore China's demands.
The decision - reportedly made after some internal debate within the Obama administration - came at the end of a week of heightened tensions in the East China Sea.
In the outcry that followed the announcement of the zone on Nov 23, first the US, then Japan, South Korea and China took turns sending military aircraft into the area.
These have sparked concerns of a potential miscalculation. Speaking at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum last Friday, Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said: "An incident can easily happen and we, the rest of the world, are to some extent hostage to what some ship captains might do. And how he might get us all involved in a major conflagration that no one wants."
Observers noted that despite the sabre-rattling, all four parties currently involved are heavily linked economically and none wants the issue to escalate into violence.
Senior US administration officials earlier declined to say if Vice-President Joe Biden will ask China to roll back the zone when he heads to Beijing as part of a three-nation Asian visit this week.
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