China has rejected reports suggesting it was planning to set up an air defence zone over the disputed South China Sea, saying it was "yet to feel any air security threat" from its Southeast Asian neighbours.
In November, China established its first Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea, amid an increasingly tense stand-off with Japan over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. An ADIZ is a defined area in international airspace within which countries monitor and track aircraft heading towards their territory.
The setting up of the ADIZ heightened tensions with Japan, as it overlapped with Japan's zone and included the disputed islands. China at the time defended the move, pointing out that Japan had established its own ADIZ in 1969.
After a Japanese newspaper reported last week that China was considering setting up a second such zone over the South China Sea – a move that would be certain to worry the half a dozen or so countries that have competing claims over the sea's waters and islands – the Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick to deny the report, and also, at the same time, accuse Tokyo of attempting to fan tensions.
"In a general view, the Chinese side has yet to feel any air security threat from the ASEAN countries and is optimistic about its relations with the neighbouring countries and the general situation in the South China Sea region", Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a statement.
He blamed "right-wing forces of Japan" for "repeatedly clamor[ing]" about the alleged plan of China to set up ADIZ over the South China Sea". "We sternly warned these forces not to mislead public opinions with rumors and play up tensions for their own selfish benefit," he said.
China-Japan relations have soured over the past year over the disputed islands, and issues relating to wartime history and the Japanese occupation of China during the Second World War. China was especially angered by a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the
controversial Yasukuni war shrine - a memorial for Japanese who died during the war that also enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals – which was the first by a Japanese leader in seven years.
The rising tensions with Japan have coincided with an apparent diplomatic outreach by China to other Asian countries, ostensibly aimed at attempting to isolate Tokyo. China's ties have warmed with South Korea, which was also angered by Mr. Abe's Yasukuni visit.
Last year, both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang visited ASEAN countries. A year after Chinese vessels had run-ins with ships from both Vietnam and the Philippines near contested South China Sea islands, tensions with both countries have subsided. China recently signed an agreement for joint exploration with Vietnam.
Mr. Hong said China and ASEAN countries were "working together to implement the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea in a comprehensive and effective way to safeguard peace and stability in the region".
He also hit out at the Japanese media report about the ADIZ as being "of ulterior motive and simply aimed to shift international attention from and cover up the plot to change Japan's pacifist constitution and expand its military power."