The carrier has been filing flight plans with Chinese authorities

Air India’s flights that pass through China’s newly established Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the disputed East China Sea are unaffected by Beijing’s new move, according to airline officials, because the airline has already been filing flight plans with Chinese authorities.

Under new rules announced on November 23, which have sparked regional tensions, China requires all flights passing through its ADIZ to file flight plans with its civil aviation authority or the Foreign Ministry.

While China has made clear that civilian flights will not be affected by any defence measures, the government has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to all carriers operating in the East China Sea, requiring that they abide by the regulations.

Subsequently, the matter of whether airlines are filing flight plans has become a diplomatic issue, seen as reflecting a particular government’s stance on China’s air zone. For instance, air carriers from Japan and South Korea have refused to comply with the demand, according to diplomats, reflecting the two governments’ opposition to the ADIZ. According to Chinese officials, Japanese carriers initially complied with the request, but stopped filing plans in accordance with Tokyo’s official position.

The United States State Department said that while it was “deeply concerned” by the move, it “expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with NOTAMs issued by foreign countries.” The U.S. response disappointed Japan, seen as compliance with Beijing’s new zone.

China’s ADIZ overlaps with parts of the South Korean and Japanese zones, and also covers the airspace over the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands that are at the heart of a dispute between China and Japan. An ADIZ is not a territorial claim, but a defined area in international airspace within which countries track aircraft heading for their territorial airspace.

Chinese Foreign Ministry officials say 55 airlines and 19 countries have so far filed flight plans in accordance with the move. Air India’s flight from New Delhi to Tokyo also passes through the contested area over the East China Sea. But airline officials said the flights would not be affected as the airline was, in any case, filing flight plans with Chinese authorities because the Delhi-Tokyo flight path also transits through parts of Chinese airspace.

India has not officially reacted to the Chinese move, reluctant to wade into a row between Beijing and Tokyo. As yet, it remains unclear whether Indian military aircraft that may pass through the region in future will comply with China’s request. Military aircraft can be subjected to interception — China has said it has already scrambled jets to tail 12 Japanese and U.S. aircraft.

While several countries — such as Japan and South Korea — have long established such zones in the region, China’s announcement has heightened regional tensions over the disputed territory, and also sparked alarm because the November 23 announcement said any aircraft that did not file flight plans could face unspecified “emergency” defensive measures.

The announcement triggered fears that aircraft could face interception, though the Chinese Defence Ministry, in a statement on Tuesday, sought to assuage concerns by saying such measures would not apply to civilian aircraft. The ministry said “generally, supervision and control” would be exercised through “reported flight plans and radar response and identification.” “It is well-known that civil flights pose no threat in most circumstances,” the Ministry said.

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