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Hands Off ADIZ Islands
Reports: China to Announce Air Defense Identification Zone in SCS

Beijing may soon announce an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, the South China Morning Post reports:

China is preparing an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea, two years after it announced a similar one in the East China Sea, according to sources close to the People’s Liberation Army and a defence report.

But one source said the timing of any declaration would ­depend on security conditions in the region, particularly the United States’ military presence and diplomatic ties with neighbouring countries.

“If the US military keeps making provocative moves to challenge China’s sovereignty in the region, it will give Beijing a good opportunity to declare an ADIZ in the South China Sea,” the source said. […]

In a written response to the South China Morning Post on the zone, the defence ministry said it was “the right of a sovereign state” to designate an ADIZ. “Regarding when to declare such a zone, it will depend on whether China is facing security threats from the air, and what the level of the air safety threat is,” the statement said.

Even assuming this report is accurate (Beijing has not confirmed or denied anything), the exact details of where the lines would be drawn and what regulations will be enforced within those lines remain unclear. Whether any boundary that is set will be static is also up in the air—Beijing has been known to extend the boundaries of its ADIZ in the East China Sea.

What is certain is that China’s move would heighten tensions. Many analysts are looking to the East China Sea ADIZ as a precedent, but given how much more developed China’s infrastructure is in the South China Sea, Beijing is probably better positioned to enforce its claims in this case. Meanwhile, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia are set to announce their own ADIZs with U.S. backing, which only makes everything more complicated.

Having finished his tenth Asia tour this past week and yet still mid-pivot, President Obama has hesitated to get too confrontational with Beijing. The President’s position has opened a rift with the Pentagon over the intensity of U.S. military patrols in the region. As a result, it’s not clear how the U.S. might respond to the announcement of an ADIZ. Many eyes will be on American officials heading into the Shangri-La Dialogue with China later this week.

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  • Enemy Leopard

    I assume that, if China does announce an ADIZ that covers disputed territory or that extends beyond what would be their right under commonly accepted international law, we’ll take the first convenient opportunity to send some B-52s through it unannounced. We did this, without incident, when they established their ADIZ in the East China Sea. Of course, we also advised commercial aircraft to comply with the Chinese wishes, which was probably a mistake. So a new ADIZ might very slightly nudge the status quo, but I don’t see it substantially changing the game in the region. Unless someone does something unexpected and stupid.

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