India has officially not reacted to the developing tension between Japan and China, but former diplomats and academics here are hoping the parties to the dispute would step back before the situation took a turn for the worse.

Last week, China set up an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) covering the international airspace over parts of the disputed East China Sea, triggering protest from Japan. The zone includes a chain of islands called Diaoyu (in Chinese) or Senkaku (in Japanese), which are also claimed by Japan.

China expert Alka Acharya wanted the world to look at the issue from a slightly broader perspective, especially after the revelation that Japan had established its own ADIZin the same area in the late 1960s and sent military planes in recent years to shadow Chinese ones on grounds that they had entered Japan’s ADIZ.

Former diplomat Nalin Surie described the emerging confrontation as an “unfortunate situation” due to China overtaking Japan as the top Asian power and Tokyo seeking to reclaim its position. The first stone in stoking the dispute was cast by Japan when it bought the islands back but China’s “one-upmanship” in setting up the ADIZ a few days back “could prove tricky.”

Another former diplomat Vivek Katju hoped the setting up of the ADIZ by China was in accordance with international norms and felt the U.S.’s signal by flying two of its bombers through the zone was “very clear.”

The ADIZ was basically being superimposed on the existing tensions over the islands. “The question we need to find out is whether this kind of decision is contravening any law. That’s not very clear but the declaration has certainly heightened the sense of tension. We will have to wait and watch more carefully,” observed Ms. Acharya.

Mr. Surie pointed out that this dispute was the previous Chinese government’s legacy but both the present President and Prime Minister of China [Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang] were in the decision-making loop at that time. He referred to his observations at a Chennai seminar that China’s actions on the islands’ issue vis-à-vis Japan and the ASEAN had been aggressive and in some respects this had reduced the room for manoeuvre for Mr. Xi and his new team.

“A stage has now been reached where China will be increasingly judged by its partners and the international community by its actions. Its rhetoric no longer carries conviction and it will no longer get the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Xi & Mr. Li will have to increasingly exercise Chinese power and influence in a responsible manner that is credible to its partners and interlocutors,” he said.

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