Sunday, November 24, 2013

Typhoon underscores hard security truths in SE Asia

From UPI (Nov 22): Typhoon underscores hard security truths in SE Asia

Typhoon Haiyan has revealed festering security problems in Southeast Asia.
How so? First, on Nov. 12, communist insurgents of the New People's Army attacked the Philippine Army's 903rd Infantry Brigade while on a relief mission headed for Leyte, so reported Col. Joselito Kakilala, the unit's commander.

Second, after initially ignoring the Philippines' calamity due to a sticky maritime dispute, China eventually offered a mere $2 million and a handful of rescue personnel to help with disaster relief.  

These two Philippines issues -- low-intensity conflict (LIC, or terrorism and insurgency) and state vs. state friction -- mirror similar problems throughout the rest of Southeast Asia.

This is an issue if the United States is going to make its Asia pivot a reality. It means increased politicking, security assistance and business activities in Asia. In the process, the United States will get closer to these LICs and state vs. state problems.

Regarding the Philippines, on top of the NPA, there are four other groups fighting the government, some with links to al-Qaida. They include the Moro National Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayaaf Group.

A fifth, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is in tenuous but hopeful peace talks with Manila.

The others are quite active.

The MNLF, for example, attacked Zamboanga in September, seizing 180 hostages, burning 500 homes and forcing some 69,000 civilians to flee for their lives.

In Thailand, while Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is desperately trying to keep tense domestic politics from devolving into widespread civil unrest, an Islamist jihadist insurgency seeking its own homeland on the border with Malaysia rages. It's killed more than 5,000 since 2004.

And while Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has made great strides over the past 10 years striking peace deals with most of its 20-plus insurgent groups, some continue to fight.

The Kachin Independence Army remains active in the northeast along the border with China where some of the world's newest natural gas and oil pipelines run.

Other troubling signs in Myanmar include a string of bombings in October by unknown assailants. One exploded in the Traders Hotel in Yangon, injuring a U.S. woman.

Worse, Buddhist vs. Muslim Rohingya violence that, since 2012, has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands shows no signs of stopping.

In Indonesia, the new version of JI and other terror groups such as Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid and Indonesian Islamic State continue their quest to turn that country into a strict Islamist state.

Indonesian authorities have been rounding up terrorists in a nationwide crackdown for months. The latest arrest happened in October when Detachment 88, the police counter-terror unit, seized an NII suspect wanted for robbery, terrorist training and illegal weapons possession.  R

egarding state vs. state friction, China has claimed the entire South China Sea as its own, which would be fine if Vietnam, the Philippines and four other claimant states didn't see this as infringing on their territorial boundaries.

Vietnam has deployed naval patrols and is protesting internationally instead of shutting up and just accepting the situation, as a miffed Beijing would prefer.

And the Philippines, with no real navy, has taken an aghast China to court at the United Nations.

No small matter, China and Vietnam have fought over this issue before, which cost Vietnam more than 60 killed in 1988 at Johnson Reef.

China in March staged amphibious exercises 50 miles off the coast of Malaysia to boost its claims. A similar scenario is playing out further north between Japanese and Chinese naval forces between Okinawa and Taiwan.  -- What's it all mean?

First, it means outside Iran and North Korea, Asia's maritime disputes are, collectively, one of the world's most contentious conventional security problems.

An epic, WWII-style sea battle any time soon is highly unlikely but with so many naval vessels "hawking" each other amid high tensions, a skirmish is certainly possible. History shows that.

The problem is twofold: A skirmish might get quickly out of control and Asian maritime commerce could be severely curtailed, which would smack the global economy in the face.

Second, regarding Southeast Asia's LICs, while the sky is by no means falling -- countries there have well-functioning economies and governments -- from little, local wars come bigger terror attacks. And little wars can spill over borders and spread chaos.

Witness 9/11. It turned Afghanistan, which was generally ignored once Russian withdrew in 1989, into a multination battlefield for more than a decade because Osama bin Laden received refuge there.

In Asia, Myanmar's religious violence has resulted in a Buddhist temple bombing in Jakarta and a bombing attempt on the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta.

And while Southeast Asia's LICs don't portend failed states, they certainly portend failed regions of functioning states, which is troubling.  It behooves Washington, then, to get educated on these problems ASAP so it knows how to better deal with Asia.

To be sure, there are experts in the U.S. arsenal engaged in these issues, especially the South China Sea. But are there enough? And with all the leaderless chaos and incompetence swirling around D.C. these days, is Washington up to the task? It doesn't appear so.

 (Jeff Moore, Ph.D., is the chief executive officer of Muir Analytics, which assesses threats from insurgent and terror groups against corporations.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Army’s 24IB holds successful intel operation vs NPA remnants in Zambales

From the Philippine Information Agency (Nov 25): Army’s 24IB holds successful intel operation vs NPA remnants in Zambales

The 24th Infantry Battalion (24IB) of the Philippine Army was recently commended by the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) for a successful intelligence operation against remnants of PNS Tarzam of the New People’s Army (NPA) in barangay Pinagrealan in Candelaria, Zambales.

Under the leadership of Captain Ramon Rayala and 1st Lieutenant Wilson Usman Jr., the November 18 operations led to the recovery of two M16-A1 rifles, assorted military items, communication equipment, and subversive documents.

“This showed the importance of military intelligence operations in gathering accurate information and cooperation with the residents against the NPA remnants,” NOLCOM Commander Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said.

“This bespeaks well of 24IB’s adherence to what is expected of a soldier as specified in my Command guidance Kawal ay Disiplinado, Bawal Abusado Dapat Asintado that resulted in zero collateral damage and casualty on our troops and civilians in the community,” Catapang added.

Water purification system provides much needed resource

From DVIDS (Nov 20): Water purification system provides much needed resource

Purification system provides much needed resource

Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force dispense water from a tactical water purification system at MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park Nov. 21 during Operation Damayan. Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 7 with estimated sustained winds near 200 mph and gusts near 230 mph. Nearly 1,800 tons of relief supplies have been delivered and more that 17,500 people have been evacuated from the impacted provinces during the operation.
TACLOBAN, LEYTE, Republic of the Philippines – Fresh water is one of the most important resources people need to survive. It is something people use every day for cooking, staying hydrated and fulfilling basic sanitation needs; Operation Damayan is enabling hundreds of thousands of people affected by Typhoon Haiyan to use this essential resource once again.

At MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park, near Tacloban, Leyte, one of the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan, Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 4 set up two tactical water purification systems Nov. 19 to spearhead the U.S. military effort to provide easily transported potable water where it is needed most.

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines Nov. 7 with estimated sustained winds near 200 mph and wind gusts eclipsing 220 mph. The Government of the Philippines and Armed Forces of the Philippines are leading recovery efforts with the assistance of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in support Joint Task Force 505, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development. Members of each organization were on hand to help distribute the vital resource.

“This will be a really big help to the people here who are craving water,” said Eddie Eacaldo, a social worker with the DSWD. “Their water system (had) been destroyed by the typhoon.”

The TWPS systems uses state-of-the art reverse osmosis technology to produce potable water. The system produces approximately 1,500 gallons per hour and each storage bladder holds 20,000 gallons of water, according to Lance Cpl. Jarrett Soto, a water support technician with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, currently assigned to 3rd MEB in support of JTF-505.

“The main water source here is seawater,” said Jarrett. “We are using our TWPS to purify 20 gallons of seawater per minute.”

With potable water, residents can not only hydrate, they can cook, bathe and wash their clothes, all of which improves quality of life and helps maintain proper sanitary measures.

USAID provided boxes of plastic containers for the purified water to be stored and distributed by the AFP and DSWD.

“Our purpose here is to move supplies coming from Manila to our central warehouse where it waits to be dropped off at specific points,” said Wayne Belizar, a social worker with DSWD.

The AFP’s continuing efforts help manage the distribution efforts and make improvements in the lives of every day Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, according to Belizar.

“(The improvement comes from) the coordination and help coming from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and also the (U.S.) forces,” said Belizar.

Philippine Marine connects 31st MEU to relief efforts

From DVIDS (Nov 24): Philippine Marine connects 31st MEU to relief efforts

Philippine Marine connects 31st MEU to relief efforts

Capt. Matthew C. Kelly, left, adjutant for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and a native of Carver, Mass., talks to 1st Lt. Jose Eugenio E. Eclavia, right, security officer for the Philippine Navy Ship Gregorio Del Pilar, Patrol Force 15, and a native of IloIlo City, Republic of the Philippines, about ship to ship communication on the deck here, Nov. 21. Eclavia is a liaison officer from the Philippine Marine Corps working with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to help coordinate disaster relief efforts in support of Operation Damayan. The 31st MEU and the ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 are capable of delivering robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services for food, water and other supplies; and engineering assets for infrastructure repair and road clearance. The 31st MEU is deployed at the request of the government of the Republic of the Philippines and in coordination with Joint Task Force 505 personnel and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
USS GERMANTOWN, At Sea – When responding to a natural disaster, providing effective relief for affected people requires the cooperation and knowledge of the local government.

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently operating along the coast of the Republic of the Philippines, integrated a liaison officer from the Philippine Marine Corps into the command staff to help coordinate their disaster relief efforts in support of Operation Damayan , Nov. 21.

“I’m here to act as a guide, a link between [the 31st MEU] and the Philippines for providing help,” said 1st Lt. Jose Eugenio E. Eclavia, security officer for the Philippine Navy Ship Gregorio Del Pilar, Patrol Force 15, and a native of IloIlo City, Philippines.

Eclavia worked with Marines within the MEU’s Command Element to gain an understanding of the unit’s disaster relief capabilities. He then relayed that information to his superiors in the Armed Forces of the Philippines who continue to organize relief efforts through their government and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Through [Eclavia], we have been able to inform the Philippine government what we are capable of bringing to the relief operation,” said Capt. Matthew C. Kelly, adjutant for the 31st MEU.

The 31st MEU and the ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 are capable of delivering robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services for food, water and other supplies; and engineering assets for infrastructure repair and road clearance.

Participation in Operation Damayan marks the fifth deployment of the 31st MEU in support of disaster relief operations in just the past five years. The unit’s experience has developed their appreciation for a cooperative effort in relief.

“Working through [Eclavia] provides a local perspective of the situation, a first-hand account of how the damage affects the people,” said Kelly, a native of Carver, Mass. “Working with our brothers in the Philippine military makes sure we can get help to where it is most needed.”

The 31st MEU is deployed at the request of the government of the Philippines and in coordination with Joint Task Force 505 personnel and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.

Watchdog slams disqualification of bidder in AFP project

From the Philippine Star (Nov 24): Watchdog slams disqualification of bidder in AFP project

An anti-corruption advocate acting as third party observer in the government’s acquisition of big ticket items for the military has questioned the decision of the Department of National Defense-Bid and Awards Committee (DND-BAC) to disqualify a South Korean company from supplying the Armed Forces of the Philippines protection equipment despite offering the lowest bid for the project.

The Coalition Against Corruption (CAC) urged DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to reconsider the decision of the BAC, which disqualified Kolon Global Corp. from supplying the Army and the Marines with 44,080 pieces of armored vests worth P800 million.

The coalition is composed of the Ateneo School of Government, Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

The group’s lawyer Paterno Menzon said that Kolon was one of the four companies that tendered the lowest bid of P800 million to supply the military with armored vests out of the total P1.763-billion project put up for bidding by the DND.

'Deploy attack copters' advice

From the Daily Express: Independent National Newspaper of East Malaysia (Nov 24): 'Deploy attack copters' advice

SINGAPORE: The recurrent security problems posed by the notorious Abu Sayyaf resulting in several kidnappings for ransom and early this year by the so-called Royal Sulu Army in their attempt to reclaim Sabah can be best overcome through superior aerial firepower, according to a naval attache.

Stressing that it was only his view as a defence strategist, Cdr Skivel Thomasen, a naval attachŽ from a European country based in Singapore, said what Sabah may be lacking is fast attack helicopters on duty round the clock on the east coast facing the Philippines and Indonesia.   

"Sabah's security (under Esscom) can be better secured by fast combat helicopters like Singapore's Apache squadron who are on duty 24/7 in order to react to any small but fast sea borne threats that can come in minutes and disappear across the sea boundary just as fast," said Thomassen.   

"I may be wrong but I believe no Royal Malaysian Air Force jets are based in Sabah, nor does the country possess any attack helicopter squadron or long range turbo-prop aircraft in daily sea surveillance like what Singapore is doing day in and day out."   

He said Royal Malaysian Navy frigates of the Kedah Class patrol Sabah waters but carry Seahawk helicopters in their hangers that are meant for search and rescue.   

He also said Malaysia should have considered buying the more economical South African attack helicopter - the Rooivalk - when it was displayed at a past Lima event in Langkawi, if the US or EU models were out of cost consideration or faced with too many conditions.   

The Rooivalk has been designed to operate for prolonged periods without sophisticated support.    

"Only constant show of force will earn the kind of respect for preparedness and readiness for the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.    

For instance, terrorists will think twice before attempting to strike Singapore across its sea borders given its capability and reputation for effective targeted results," Cdr Thomasen said.   

When Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was Defence Minister during the PBS Chief Ministership of Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, he staged the Malaysian Rapid Reaction Strike Force paratroopers landing in Kota Kinabalu Airport that was witnessed by Pairin, with the message that Sabah is part of Malaysia and would be vigorously defended against separatism.   

Since then, no paratroopers were dropped in Sabah for its security against intruders.

PN's latest frigate now in station off Tacloban Bay

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 25): PN's latest frigate now in station off Tacloban Bay

The Philippine Navy (PN) announced that the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), the country's latest frigate, is now stationed off Tacloban Bay since Sunday afternoon helping with the ongoing relief efforts for the victims of Supertyphoon "Yolanda".

Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, PN spokesperson, said the vessel cannot dock at the Tacloban City Pier due to her deep draft, necessitating the need to anchor in Tacloban Bay.

Fabic said the relief goods and personnel carried by the ship is transported to shore via rubber boats which the Filipino frigate carries in sufficient quantity.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz carries 123.7 tons of relief supplies and 12 Seabees to help in the ongoing construction efforts.

The former relieved BRP Greogio Del Pilar (PF-15), which was on site since Nov. 17.

With the arrival of the PN's newest ship off Leyte, the number of Navy ships undergoing relief duty for "Yolanda" is now placed at 25.

Army scores NPA for violating own ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 25): Army scores NPA for violating own ceasefire
The Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division strongly condemned the New People's Army (NPA) for violating its own ceasefire declaration by firing upon troopers of the 11th Infantry Battalion who were conducting peace and security patrols in La Libertad, Negros Oriental Sunday afternoon.

Major Ray Tiongson, the unit's spokesperson, said the incident transpired around 5:05 p.m. in Sitio Center Cut, Barangay Pitogo in La Libertad town.

He added that 11th Infantry Battalion troopers were patrolling in the vicinity when fired upon by around 10 rebels.

Tiongson said government troopers fired back with he exchange of gunfire lasting 10 minutes. One NPA fighter died while government forces sustained no casualties.

The encounter also resulted to the recovery of one M-1 Garand rifle with loaded magazine, several spent M-16 shells and a military backpack that contains subversive documents and personal belonging.

Tiongson said the troops were in the area to maintain support to government and civil authorities’ peace and development programs.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, said the NPA attack is a clear violation of the NPAs' ceasefire declaration.

"It only shows that their leadership has no control over their units. The Army here in Negros remains vigilant in securing and protecting the people from these lawless armed elements,” he added.

This is the second time that the NPA has violated their ceasefire declaration.

Last Nov. 16, the rebels also fired upon the government troops in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental two days after they declared a ceasefire in the guise of helping the typhoon-victims.

One soldier was wounded in the encounter.

Japan warns of 'unpredictable events' over China's new air zone

From InterAksyon (Nov 25): Japan warns of 'unpredictable events' over China's new air zone

Japanese Foreign Ministr Fumio Kishida. AFP FILE PHOTO

Japan warned Sunday of the danger of "unpredictable events" and South Korea voiced regret following China's unilateral declaration of an air defense zone over areas claimed by Tokyo and Seoul.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said his country was considering making stronger protests "at a higher level" after China announced Saturday it was setting up the zone over an area that includes Tokyo-controlled islands claimed by Beijing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday they were "deeply concerned" at China's move and were committed to defending Japan.

China said it was setting up the "air defenSe identification zone" over an area including the islands in the East China Sea to guard against "potential air threats."

It released a set of aircraft identification rules that must be followed by planes entering the area.

Kishida told reporters that Japan cannot accept the Chinese measure, calling it "a one-sided action which leads us to assume the danger of unpredictable events on the spot," in remarks that later drew a rebuke from Beijing.

China said it "firmly" opposed Japan's remarks, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang calling them "groundless and utterly wrong," according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Qin, who also urged the United States not to take sides over the issue, said Beijing had "lodged representation" with US ambassador Gary Locke over the American response to the air zone, calling for Washington to correct its mistakes.

Qin said the aims of the zone, which he asserted complies with international law, "are to protect China's state sovereignty and territorial and airspace safety." He added that the move did not target any specific nation "and will not affect the freedom of over-flights in relevant airspace."

The dispute over the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China, heated up last year when Japan's government bought some of them from a private owner.

China has since sent coastguard vessels and other state-owned ships as well as aircraft close to the islands, sometimes breaching asserted airspace and territorial waters around them.

This has prompted Japanese coastguard boats and air force fighter jets to try to warn them off.

The Japanese defense ministry said Saturday two Chinese planes entered Japan's own air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, prompting its air defense force to scramble fighter aircraft.

The ministry lodged a strong protest with a minister at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo by telephone.

US Defense Secretary Hagel reiterated that the islands fall under the US-Japan security treaty, meaning that Washington would defend its ally Tokyo if the area is attacked.

He made it clear that the United States, which stations more than 70,000 troops in Japan and South Korea, would not respect China's declaration of control over the zone.

However, Washington has repeatedly said it takes no position on the islands' ultimate sovereignty.

Japan has vowed not to cede sovereignty or even to acknowledge a dispute with China over the islands.

It accuses its neighbor of trying to change the status quo through intimidation.

Former Japanese foreign minister Masahiko Komura, speaking as deputy head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said defense officials of the two countries must keep in close communication "to prevent a touch-and-go situation from arising."

In Seoul, South Korea's defense ministry said the Chinese zone partly overlapped its own.

"We find it regretful that China's air defense zone partly overlaps with our military's KADIZ (Korean Air Defense Identification Zone) in the area west of Jeju Island," said a ministry statement, according to Yonhap news agency.

"We will discuss with China the issue so as to prevent its establishment from affecting our national interests."

A military source quoted by Yonhap said the overlapping area is 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide and 115 kilometers long.

The Chinese zone also includes a South Korean-controlled submerged rock that lies within the two countries' overlapping economic zones, according to a South Korean defense ministry official quoted by the news agency.

Taiwan to send naval ship loaded with relief goods

From GMA News (Nov 24): Taiwan to send naval ship loaded with relief goods

Taiwan is sending a naval vessel to the Philippines on Monday to bring relief supplies for victims of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
A report on Taiwan's Central News Agency Sunday said the tank-landing ship "Chung He" will travel 900 nautical miles from Southern Taiwan's Zuoying district. The voyage is expected to take four days.
Defense Ministry spokesman Luo Shou-he is quoted as saying this will be the first time Taiwan's navy visits the Philippines since the Vietnam War nearly 40 years ago.
"(The) last time Taiwan's navy visited the Philippines was to help transport Vietnamese refugees in Subic Bay in 1975," the report said.
The Philippines is reeling from Yolanda, which devastated Visayas and Southern Luzon on November 8.
Earlier, Taiwan donated $200,000 and sent 150 metric tons of relief supplies from charity groups to affected areas.
Citing figures from Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the report said government and civic groups contributed more than $6.42 million in supplies.

Relations between the Philippines and Taiwan soured earlier this year over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters.

The Philippines has since formally apologized for the incident and the National Bureau of Investigation recommended homicide and obstruction charges against Philippine Coast Guard personnel involved in the incident.

The NBI maintained, though, that the incident happened within Philippine waters.

Chinese hospital ship arrives, docks off Tacloban

From GMA News (Nov 24): Chinese hospital ship arrives, docks off Tacloban

The Chinese hospital ship "Peace Ark" arrived in the Philippines and docked 10 miles off this city Sunday to give medical aid to those affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

"The ship is a hospital ship. It's very big, about 14,000 tons. It's too big to be anchored at any port so it's anchored 10 miles away," Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing told reporters.

She said that while the vessel is ready to treat patients, the patients have to be brought there via ferry.

Ma said the vessel has about 100 doctors to treat various medical conditions.

"I hope it would be a big help," she said.

Meanwhile, China's CNTV reported a team from China's Red Cross has reached Tacloban and is now coordinating with Philippine rescue workers on how to distribute medical supplies from "Peace Ark."

China's ship is part of the international efforts to help the Philippines, after Super Typhoon Yolanda battered Visayas and Southern Luzon and left more than 5,000 dead.

The ship has a capacity of 300 beds and a staff of 106.

US says China's move on East China Sea airspace 'destabilizing'

From InterAksyon (Nov 25):

A Chinese military plane Y-8 airborne early warning plane flies through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller Miyako island in southern Japan, out over the Pacific, in this handout photo taken on October 27, 2013 by the Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan. PHOTO: JOINT STAFF OFFICE OF THE DEFENSE MINISTRY OF JAPAN/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

The United States on Saturday sharply criticized China's move to impose new rules on airspace over islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan, calling it a "destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region."

China's government-run Xinhua news agency published coordinates for a newly established "East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone," which covers most of that sea and includes the skies over the disputed islands.

China warned that it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in the airspace.

The White House, Pentagon and State Department all voiced concerns about the move.

 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a strongly worded statement, said China's announcement would not change how the United States carries out military operations in the region.

"We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region," Hagel said.

"This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations."

Many countries including the United States have air defense identification zones, which extend beyond a nation's sovereign airspace. The United States requires approaching foreign aircraft to follow its air defense identification zone procedures only if they intend to enter U.S. national airspace.

But China's announcement suggests that foreign aircraft merely passing through that zone would have to follow China's procedures - or face unknown, potentially dangerous consequences.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China's move was being interpreted as "a direct challenge" to Japan's operations in the area.

Secretary of State John Kerry said freedom of overflight was essential to stability and security in the Pacific.

"We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing," Kerry said in a statement.

U.S. 'coordinating’ with allies

The White House said the "escalatory development" increased regional tensions and affected U.S. interests and those of its allies.

"We have conveyed our strong concerns to China and are coordinating closely with allies and partners in the region," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.

Tensions in the region are expected to be a topic of discussion when Vice President Joe Biden travels to China, Japan and South Korea in early December.

The United States has not taken a position on sovereignty issues in the regional maritime disputes, but has stressed the need for the free flow of commerce, a reduction in tensions, and peace and stability in the region.

But China has long harbored suspicions about U.S. interests in the island dispute because the U.S.-Japan security treaty commits the United States to intervene in defense of Japan if there is an attack on Japanese-administered territory.

The United States has a hefty military presence in Japan, including on the southern island of Okinawa, which is close to the disputed isles.

"The concern would be: what happens if China tries to regulate aircraft that are overflying the Senkakus," a second U.S. official told Reuters, using the Japanese name for the islands that China calls the Diaoyu.

The islands are believed to be surrounded by energy-rich seabed.

Xinhua said the rules came into force on Saturday and the Chinese air force conducted its first patrol over the zone. The patrol included early warning aircraft and fighters, it said.

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Saturday afternoon against two Chinese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea, the Japanese Defense Ministry said.

Kerry said the United States had urged China to exercise caution and restraint.

"We remain steadfastly committed to our allies and partners, and hope to see a more collaborative and less confrontational future in the Pacific," Kerry said.