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The Rights and Wrongs of China's Air Defense Zone


Air Defense Identification Zones like the one China set up in the East China Sea last weekend are common features of national defense. Many countries have them, including the US, Japan, and South Korea. But China’s ADIZ goes beyond the norm. The Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf explains how:

If China’s new zone did not include disputed maritime territory, if its requirements for compliance applied only to aircraft heading into Chinese airspace, and if neighbours like Japan and South Korea had been consulted ahead of the announcement, then there would be little or nothing for others to object to. Indeed, it could have been part of a wider strategy of cooperation to reduce maritime security risks in North Asia.

Another important point:

It looks like a pretext for one of two undesirable security outcomes. If foreign aircraft now regularly obey the new Chinese rules, we will see precedents set for the unilateral expansion of Chinese authority over contested maritime territory. Alternately, if foreign aircraft contest or ignore the Chinese zone and a dangerous or deadly incident occurs (such as a collision or a forceful encounter), then China will have prepared the way to absolve itself of legal or moral blame, making it easier to use the incident as a justification to escalate the crisis if China so chooses.

Food for thought. One of China’s long-term goals in the east Asian security arena is to challenge and push back American military supremacy in the region, just as the US military did to European powers in the Caribbean in the 1900s. The South China Sea is China’s Caribbean, and Beijing wants sovereignty over it. Declaring an ADIZ that included disputed territory was a step in that direction, but so far it appears that China’s military is unable or unwilling to protect it with force from Japan and the US.

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  • AD_Rtr_OS

    Didn’t we just send a flight of Buffs over the newly proclaimed ADIZ, and what was the Chinese reaction to that?

    • TommyTwo

      Buffs beat bluff.

  • Anthony

    As aspiring regional hegemon, ADIZ declaration comports with last paragraph. For China, it is neither right nor wrong (yin and yang) but a conflict of and between interests.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “The South China Sea is China’s Caribbean, and Beijing wants sovereignty over it.”

    Please, China is unjustly claiming the south china sea a 1,000 km from it’s own shores. Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan all have better claims than China to the islands, and seas of their economic zones. This is an arrogant, greedy, and blatant territory grab by China, which feels it can bully everyone. It doesn’t have anything to do with the US, which has been in the neighborhood for well over a hundred years and many wars. Comparing the south china sea to the Caribbean is unjustifiable, as China has border disputes on all of its borders even North Korea.

  • Tim

    WRM, I think there’s one difference in your analogy between the US and Western European Countries. The Western Europeans (France and Britain) pulled out of their own accord because of their more pressing local requirements (World War I primarily, but WW-II also until the defense zones were established, which the U.K. wanted).

    If the U.S. does it here, it will be a much, much bigger problem – the U.S. can’t or won’t do it versus nation that really is a dangerous military competitor – unlike America in the early years of the 1900’s to England and France.

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