Civilian flights won't be affected by China's new air defence zone: Taiwan

TAIPEI - Cross-strait civilian flights will not be affected by mainland China's newly established air defence identification zone in the East China Sea, Taiwan's aviation authorities said yesterday.

China, in announcing the zone that covers islands claimed also by Japan and Taiwan, said any non-commercial planes flying over the area must first identify themselves to Beijing, or face "emergency defensive measures" from mainland Chinese armed forces.

Although the move may heighten tensions in the area, Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said all cross-strait civilian flights over the zone will continue normal operation.

Shen Chi, head of the CAA, explained that an air defence identification zone is a military designation that should not concern civilian flights.

All cross-strait civilian planes will submit their flight plans, including their call signs, to the CAA before takeoff. According to Shen, the CAA will pass the information onto its Chinese counterpart, which will then notify the military.

Currently, there are three cross-strait commercial flight routes serving 670 regular flights every week, according to the Central News Agency.

Cross-strait direct flights were first introduced five years ago, as tensions between Taiwan and China began to thaw.

But the two entities have yet to resolve many of their political and territorial disputes, including competing claims over the Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, which lies within Beijing's freshly announced air defence identification zone. The Diaoyutais are also claimed by Japan, where they are known as the Senkaku Islands.

Observers said Beijing's recent move can be seen as a warning to Japanese aircraft entering the Diaoyutai area.

China did not specify what measures it would take against aircraft passing through the zone, but the Washington Post cited defence experts as saying that the Chinese military could scramble jets or even shoot down planes it views as a threat.

The newspaper said many countries, including the United States and Japan, have their own air defence identification zones, which are meant to help track or monitor aircraft nearing their territories.

But the Beijing-designated zone in the East China Sea overlaps with Japan's.