BEIJING/TAIPI (Reuters) – China will ban entry to ships from an area near Taiwan on Sunday because of possible missile debris, China’s maritime safety agency said on Thursday, as Japan demanded details from Beijing about imposing a no-fly zone. area in the same location.
China has not commented on the no-fly zone but South Korea, which has also been briefed on the plans, said it was due to the fall of an object related to the launch vehicle.
The disruption comes during tensions in the region over Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, in a show of force in response to a meeting last week in Los Angeles between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
China regards Taiwan as its own territory and objects to any interactions between the Taiwanese leadership and foreign officials. Taiwan rejects China’s claims to sovereignty.
Taiwan’s government on Wednesday confirmed a Reuters report that China plans to impose a no-fly zone from April 16-18 – when Japan hosts a meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers – but later said China had reduced the requirement to just 27 minutes on Sunday morning. After Taipei protested.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported, citing the island’s Transportation Minister Wang Kuotsai, that the no-fly zone will affect about 33 flights.
In a brief statement, the China Maritime Safety Administration released the coordinates for the area, saying that shipping is prohibited from entering from 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) until 3 p.m. Sunday as “there may be missile debris.”
The coordinates correspond to a rectangular area located in northeastern Taiwan, with the nearest point 118 kilometers (73 miles) from Taiwan, shown on a map released by Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation late Wednesday.
This area is located northwest of the Japanese island of Ishigaki and close to a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls Senkaku and China Diaoyu.
A senior Taiwanese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters that China had not changed its previous notice on the flight restrictions for 27 minutes on Sunday, and that the new notice only covered ships, not planes.
Taiwan’s transport ministry said the maritime notice is separate from its predecessor, and that it will issue shipping and aviation announcements related to areas to avoid at 9pm (1300GMT) on Thursday.
The ministry said it had also been informed by China that the affected marine area should be closed “based on considerations of maritime safety, such as missile debris.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan demanded an explanation from China on Wednesday about what was going on.
“The government continues to collect and analyze detailed information, including contacts with the Chinese side, and will take appropriate measures based on the results,” Matsuno said at a press briefing.
China’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
(Reporting by Liz Lee and Ben Blanchard) Additional reporting by Yimo Lee in Taipei and Chang Ran Kim in Tokyo; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jason Neely
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