Two weeks ago China provoked its neighbors by declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Not to be outdone, South Korea is now expanding its own Air Defense Identification Zone to overlap with China and Japan’s zones, all of which now intersect over—what else—a disputed underwater reef in the middle of the ocean, as the NYT reports:
With South Korea’s newly expanded zone, the air defense zones of all three countries now overlap over a submerged reef called Ieodo in South Korea and Suyan Rock in China. The reef is controlled by South Korea, which maintains a maritime research station there, but China also claims it. The seabed around the reef is believed to be rich in natural gas and minerals deposits. […]But the announcement of the expanded zone raises the risk of an accidental military clash in the region. A military plane entering another country’s air defense identification zone must notify that country in advance. If it fails to do so, the country operating the zone may order it to leave, or dispatch military jets to confront the intruding aircraft.
One thing worth noting here is that the Asian instability is driven in part by the belief among a number of Asian countries that the US is on the way out. People are taking preemptive steps to position themselves for an era of declining US strength in the region.As we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, this is an illustration that even the perception of US withdrawal can lead to greater instability. Retreat is not a recipe for calm.