Japan to respond "firmly" to China's air zone move: Abe

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday Japan will remain steadfast and cooperate with other countries in addressing China's recent establishment of an air defense zone over the East China Sea encompassing the disputed Senkaku Islands.

"We will respond firmly but in a calm manner" against China's unilateral setting of new flight rules, Abe was quoted by a ruling party lawmaker as telling a meeting at the prime minister's office. "I will cooperate with our ally, neighboring countries and international organizations," the prime minister added.

The lawmaker, Takeshi Iwaya, from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, was speaking to reporters after the meeting, during which he handed Abe the party's written resolution criticizing China and urging Beijing to immediately withdraw the new measure.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japanese leaders hope to confirm with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden next week their close cooperation over the issue.

Biden is slated to visit Japan for three days from Monday for talks with Abe and other Japanese officials, with the Chinese move high on the agenda during the meetings. Biden and Abe are due to meet Tuesday afternoon, according to the Foreign Ministry.

"First we will explain our views, what's really going on regarding China's establishment of an air defense identification zone," Kishida told reporters. "We will then confirm the fact that Japan and the United States have steadily communicated, consulted and coordinated over the matter."

Kishida said he hopes Biden will use this confirmation as a reference point when he visits China and South Korea immediately after his trip to Japan.

U.S. officials have said Biden will convey U.S. concerns over the establishment of the air defense identification zone directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

The Chinese zone overlaps a similar zone operated by Japan in the East China Sea, where the two Asian neighbors are feuding over the ownership of the Japanese-administered Senkakus, which are called Diaoyu in China.

Tokyo and Washington have criticized the Chinese move as a unilateral attempt to change the status quo in the waters and one that could lead to an incident or invite unintended consequences.

In connection with a Xinhua News Agency report that the Chinese air force conducted "normal air patrols" in the newly declared air defense zone on Thursday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday Japan's Self-Defense Forces will continue surveillance activities in the Japanese air defense zone.

"We will not alter our surveillance and security activities. We will do our utmost through a calm response," the top government spokesman said at a news conference.

Under China's new rules, aircraft flying in its air defense zone must submit flight plans to Chinese authorities. Refusal to follow instructions may lead to "defensive emergency measures" by the Chinese military.

Also Friday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera rejected the Chinese move as "totally misplaced," in part because Beijing's new rules require aircraft flying in the newly declared zone, including those not flying toward China, to follow them.

Onodera also cast doubt on the Chinese call for a consultation to set up a new bilateral mechanism aimed at preventing an incident between military aircraft, telling a news conference that Tokyo cannot accept a consultation premised on China's sovereign claims to the disputed islands.

In demonstrating its resolve to continue military operations in the region in the face of Beijing's move, the United States on Monday flew a pair of B-52 bombers in the Chinese zone without informing China. Japanese SDF aircraft have also flown in the zone in recent days without notifying Beijing.