China warns it will take action on disputed air space violations based on 'threat level'

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China said Wednesday that it would take action against aircraft in its new defense zone based on the threat level.

The comments came a day after two U.S. B-52 bombers flew through the newly defined Chinese air zone in a direct rebuke of Beijing’s claim for the air space.

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China’s government said it monitored the two bombers and chose not to respond to the move, despite its threat to take defensive measures against unidentified foreign aircraft.

The air space had previously been seen as international space.  

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing Wednesday that the reaction to the U.S. bombers was “in accordance” with its new rules.

It said its response to flights in the air space going forward would depend on “how big the threat was,” The New York Times reported.

China declared the new air defense identification zone over the weekend, raising tensions with the U.S. and its allies in the region. China is already involved in a dispute over islands in the East China Sea. China’s new defense area overlaps with a zone marked by Japan.

The United States, Japan and others in the region have criticized China’s move to mark out the defense zone, and they say they do not recognize it.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Wednesday to discuss the security situation in the East China Sea, assuring the Japanese that U.S. military operations would not change due to China's announcement.

Hagel called the China defense zone a “potentially destabilizing unilateral action,” according to a readout of the call.

U.S. officials said the B-52 flights were part of a long-planned training mission, but they also represented a clear test of the newly declared Chinese defense zone.

China said that foreign aircraft flying through the zone would be required to identify themselves. The Pentagon has said it does not plan to change its procedures and comply.

Japan’s commercial airlines also disregarded the defense zone and did not notify China of flights through it, according to the Times.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement that it monitored the U.S. bombers through the defense zone during their 2-hour, 22-minute flight, according to The Associated Press.

“China has the capability to exercise effective control over the relevant airspace,” the statement said.

The fight raises the chances of a possible confrontation at some point over the disputed space. 

— This story was posted at 9:38 a.m. and updated at 11:21 a.m.