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How China’s push into disputed territory is increasing tension in East Asia

November 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The U.S. flew two B-52 bombers over disputed territory in the East China Sea, rejecting an air defense restriction from China for islands that are also claimed by Japan. Judy Woodruff talks to Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal about increased volatility in the region.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: China’s new push into part of the East China, an area also claimed by Japan, has increased volatility in the region. China demands that before planes enter the disputed area, they must first notify the Chinese government.

This morning, the U.S. sent two Air Force B-52 bombers over the area without giving notice.

For more on this, I’m joined by Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal.

Thank you for being here.

JULIAN BARNES, The Wall Street Journal: Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why did the U.S. send over these bombers over an area over the Chinese just over the weekend said, we control?

JULIAN BARNES: Well, the U.S. right after that announcement by China said they’re not going to change the way they operate in the region.

The United States doesn’t take sides in this territorial dispute, but we have an agreement with Japan to defend Japanese territory and the territory they administer. So the U.S. believes the status quo means that this that — that this defense zone alters the status quo, and so that they cannot abide by it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what was the reaction from the Chinese after the U.S. did this today?

JULIAN BARNES: Well, the U.S. was prepared, but didn’t expect that China would try to intercept or contact the planes. There was no contact by China when the B-52s flew over the disputed islands.

They flew from Guam. They returned to Guam without incident. Now, China is sticking by this — their establishment of the ADIZ, this air defense identification zone. And we will have to see what happens with subsequent flights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So does the U.S. just — I mean, is this a matter of the U.S. not taking the Chinese seriously?

JULIAN BARNES: No, not at all.

This is a matter of reassuring allies. The U.S. doesn’t want to see the dispute over the islands escalate into a military conflict between Japan and China. So it’s very important for the U.S. to be a calming influence. And so that’s why we see the U.S. taking action almost to prevent Japan from doing something.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, but the U.S. — but what is the risk that the U.S. sees here, I mean, the risk that this could end up escalating?

JULIAN BARNES: Right.

This dispute has gone on for more than a year. I mean, obviously, it goes back far before that. But we have had repeated conflicts over these islands over the course of the last year. The U.S. is urging the status quo, urging calm. They — but there’s quite worry of a miscalculation on either side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They are worried.

So what then are the chances — what are the U.S. plans at this point in terms of future flights? Are they going to keep on making these bombing runs over the area?

JULIAN BARNES: Defense officials say they regularly exercise in this area. This is part of international airspace. They fly there. They’re going to continue to do this.

They believe that this is administered by Japan, and so that they can operate there. And they will continue to fly bombers and other planes over it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We will keep watching. Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal, thank you.

JULIAN BARNES: Thank you.