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US Tells Airlines to Obey New China Rules: Propaganda Win For Beijing?


As China doubles down on its new Air Defense Identification Zone, the Obama administration told US airlines to comply with new rules in east Asia. US, Japanese, and South Korean warplanes have flown through the zone, disregarding China’s rules, but after Chinese jets shadowed a joint Japanese-American exercise in the area, Washington has reportedly warned civilian airliners to obey them.

The NYT reports that “administration officials said they had made the decision to urge civilian planes to adhere to Beijing’s new rules in part because they worried about an unintended confrontation.” And the WSJ continues: “But administration officials said that any compliance by carriers had no bearing on the U.S. position that the Chinese defense zone is illegitimate and wouldn’t affect military flights being made into the zone without notice to China.”

Japan and South Korean civilian airlines will not be complying with China’s rules. Does the US decision now pressure Japan to also give in? And can China claim a propaganda win?

As Robert Kelly, a professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, wrote in a good post on his blog, one of the likelier of a number of possible reasons for China’s ADIZ declaration is to shore up the Communist Party’s nationalist credentials at home. “The CCP may not want a conflict with Japan,” he writes, “but it’s been telling Chinese youth for 20+ years that Japan is greatly responsible for the ‘100 years of humiliation.’ So now the CCP is stuck; they have to be tough on Japan—even if they don’t want to be—because their citizens demand it. The CCP has created an anti-Japanese frankenstein at home that has to be placated. They have to ride the anti-Japanese tiger their education/propaganda has created, or risk a domestic backlash.”

So far it doesn’t appear that Beijing is taking advantage of Washington’s recommendation that civilian airlines obey the new rules. A foreign ministry spokesman said the ADIZ was not intended to target “normal” flights. But the authorities in Beijing, publicly or not, are likely to count Washington’s decision as a small sign of success. They are determined to keep the new ADIZ in place, and as foreign military forces show no sign of backing down on their own normal operations in the area, the chances of international incident are dangerously high. No doubt Vice President Biden and his counterparts in China will have much discuss on his upcoming visit.

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  • Reticulator

    What do Korea, Japan, and Taiwan (people and governments) think of this decision? That would seem very important in knowing how to evaluate what Obama has done here.

  • rheddles2

    Obama is lucky the airlines are run by MBAs instead of the aviators who started them. Can you imagine Eddie Rickenbacker kow towing to the Chicoms?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Once again Obama display’s he is incompetent.

    • Andrew Allison

      Oh, you mean the Manchurian Candidate?

  • S.C. Schwarz

    China has watched what is happening in the middle east and correctly concluded that they face a weakling president and a US, and a west in general, in retreat. They will press ahead and they will win.

    Decline is a choice. The first time we elected Obama can be excused as a mistake but when we re-elected him we made that choice.

  • Andrew Allison

    Yet another demonstration for all the world to see that the USA has become spineless. Here’s a different approach: shadow those who are shadowing, and if they make an aggressive move, splash them.

  • Corlyss

    It’s a prudent tactical move. The warfighters didn’t obey the rules, and that was enough of a push back to make the point. Who cares if the commercial airlines have to id themselves to a hostile power as long as their progress thru the lanes is not impeded? Big stink over nothing.

    • Reticulator

      When you ask, “who cares?” I would not treat it as a rhetorical question.

      • Corlyss

        Well, okay. So don’t treat it as rhetorical. Answer the question. Who cares?

        Here’s another one: What’s more important? A symbolic stand against provocation by commercial organizations whose charter is to make money, or a pragmatic compromise by commercial organizations whose principal function is NOT the conduct and execution of foreign or defense policy?

        • Reticulator

          I don’t know. But if the people of Korea, Japan, or Taiwan care, I might care a lot, too, for our own sake. And most foreign policy is made up of symbolic stands. You can’t say some things are merely symbolic and others aren’t.

          I’m just coming to the end of “Defying Hitler: A Memoir” by Sebastian Haffner. (I’m listening on audio. If I had taken a longer bike ride this afternoon, I would have finished.) It’s all about the supreme, life and death importance of symbolic actions.

  • gabrielsyme

    If the policy goal is to contain China, one wonders if an early confrontation isn’t desirable? And if building an anti-China alliance is important, perhaps confrontation is especially useful here, given that Japan and South Korea, the West’s two strongest allies in the region have parallel interests in this particular controversy and need to establish better cooperation between themselves.

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