Vice President Biden tried to diffuse tension in East Asia on a visit to Japan Tuesday, reiterating that the US is “deeply concerned” by China’s new Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea.
Back in Washington, just before Biden landed in Tokyo, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki went a step beyond and specifically called on Beijing to “rescind” the ADIZ: “The fact that China’s announcement has caused confusion and increased the risk of accidents only further underscores the validity of concerns and the need for China to rescind the procedures.”
That message might have been a little strong and a little premature. No other US government statement has been so explicit, and today State tried to distance itself from the FAA’s instruction that American airlines obey China’s new rules. The FAA, a division of the US government, issued what is called a Notice to Airmen (which is an order that civilian airline pilots are required to follow) to submit flight plans and communicate with the Chinese authorities as China requested. Japan voiced some confusion and disagreement, and did not make the same order to its civilian airliners; Ms. Psaki tried to change tack in a press conference yesterday, saying that the US government had not ordered airlines to obey China’s rules, and that military flights within China’s ADIZ would continue. Confused observers wondered if, in effect, the US had caved.
Washington needs to get its ducks in a row. The different branches of the US government can’t be sending out mixed messages. Our allies in Asia are watching very closely to gauge the depth of the US commitment to stability in Asia. Diplomatic missteps, confusion, mixed messages, and incompetence will only further convince our allies that the US ship has sailed.