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Why China Needs Air Defense Identification Zone

Ma Jun, Research Fellow, the PLA Academy of Military Science
December 4, 2013
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Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is an area of airspace demarcated by a state to guard against potential air threats. Its purpose is to secure enough time for the air force to discover and identify aircraft in the interest of national security. Since the World War II, the traditional air defense system has been constantly challenged by the rapid development of science; the latest model of hostile aircraft equipped with cutting-edge technology and tactics give too little time for it to correspond to unexpected activities. Therefore, some countries began to establish ADIZs beyond their territorial airspace over high seas, and the expansion of early warning spaces has become a common practice to guarantee enough interception time. Generally speaking, the main purpose of ADIZ is to prevent some unidentified aircraft from intruding on the territorial airspace of a sovereign state, and foreign military airplanes from entering the territorial airspace by accident. 

Technically, the first establishment of ADIZ was to standardize the collaborative air defense operations between the U.S. and its allies. Not until the 1950s did ADIZ become a new defense concept for early warning in the air. Within half a decade, more than 20 countries, including Canada, Australia, South Korea and Japan carried ADIZs into practice. 

Particularly, Japan set up its ADIZ in 1969, 44 years earlier than China did, to cover China’s Diaoyu Islands and overlap Chinese economic zone. 

On November 23, Chinese government announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone in accordance with the Law of the People’s Republic of China on National Defense, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Civil Aviation and the Basic Rules on Flight of the People’s Republic of China. As a matter of fact, the decision came too late. The significance of China’s first ADIZ is three-fold: 

1. It shows China’s determination to safeguard the country. In order to ensure the security of its territorial air, important targets, civil aviation and regular military air patrols, as well as the safety of flight crews, it is necessary for China to demarcate such an area for surveillance and early warning. The establishment of ADIZ is conducive to reducing miscalculations, setting aside time for judgment and disposal and preventing aircraft accidents. It is responsible not only for our own security, but also for other nations’. 

2. It shows China is willing to participate in the formulation of international rules. Like it or not, China has set up a new “rule of game” in the East China Sea. China will no longer allow others to unilaterally establish international rules, especially those concerning its neighbors and itself. China will not blindly obey to the rules not agreed upon by China as it now has the desire and capability to guarantee the regional security. This is a fact other countries should learn to accept. As a member of the international community, China should not be excluded from the formulation of international rules. 

3. It is a moderate response to the continuous provocations from certain countries. The East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone is not directed against any specific country; instead, it meets the realistic requirements of national security. Recently, Japan has frequently taken provocative actions against China. For example, it claimed it would shoot down China’s drones and fire warning shots at Chinese aircraft entering its own ADIZ. Japanese ships and aircraft have conducted stalking, surveillance, monitoring, and even dangerous actions of intrusion on Chinese regular military training activities for quite a long time. Taking note of Japan’s provocations, many people tend to interpret China’s establishment of the ADIZ as a response to Japan’s impudence. 

Ma Jun is a Research Fellow of the Department of Foreign Military Studies and Specially Invited Researcher for the Center on China-America Defense Relations at the PLA Academy of Military Science.

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