China recently announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and issued new aircraft identification rules. China’s move has aroused strong reactions from a number of countries, including Japan and the US. It seems that this action will darken the shadow on China’s relationship with neighboring countries and will present new trouble for building a special relationship with the US.
However, it is also likely that the ADIZ will work and that China’s bottom-line thinking behind the zone will prove to be effective. Under the new leadership of China, bottom-line thinking has become an important tool for decision making.
One part of bottom-line thinking is to maximize the effect of every action.
As for the ADIZ case, since many countries have set up their ADIZs and some have had ADIZs for decades, it is widely accepted that the ADIZ is different from territorial air space. Therefore, the nature of the ADIZ is not the heart of the issue. What matters is that China’s zone covers the Diaoyu Islands, which is a disputed area and thus makes certain countries uncomfortable.
After Japan made a purchase of the islands last year, China has utilized a series of countermeasures to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity. The consequence is that China has succeeded in carrying out regular patrols, breaking Japan’s seizure of the islands. Therefore, Japan has sought to change its disadvantageous position in the disputes with China. The country increased the deployment of its forces, including air forces, to fight for Diaoyu Islands.
Based on existing achievements, the establishment of the ADIZ will be another concrete step for China to strengthen control of its territory. The current situation is that China has started to exercise the function of the ADIZ. China’s Air Forces have successfully detected and indentified US and Japanese planes entering the zone. The Air Forces responded by scrambling fighter jets to monitor the aircrafts.
The Diaoyu Islands dispute is definitely not the only rationale for announcing the ADIZ. With rapid development, it enables China to pay more attention and invest more in defending national security.
Actually, the US and Japan have been conducting frequent surveillance operations in China’s coastal areas. These actions have undermined China’s national security and are likely to cause accidents. The China-US plane collision in 2001 is a typical case. With the ADIZ, Chinese Air Forces will be able to maintain a status of “high alert” for potential threats and to take measures to deal with threats to China’s airspace.
The other aspect of the bottom-line thinking is to prepare for the worst.
Now, China is facing criticism concerning the ADIZ. It is unlikely that China did not expect to encounter such pressure. The current situation should not go beyond China’s previous calculation.
China understands that there is no room to sacrifice its core interests, including national security. With this guideline, China will be tough in facing opposition and protests, as well as other stronger actions.
On one hand, China has set out a red line for some countries, including Japan and the US. China has reaffirmed its positions, officially responded to blame and started to patrol the ADIZ. By these approaches, China has sent signals to other countries that there is little possibility for China to nullify the setting of the zone.
What the other countries should do is to understand China’s interests in order to avoid miscalculation. The “freedom of action” pursued by the US has its limits. Every country should respect others’ interests and abide by international norms. Only under this condition, can freedom be realized.
On the other hand, China is trying to assure other countries that it does not aim to change the status quo or worsen the regional situation. Last month, China held the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and issued a wide range of domestic reform plans. China needs a favorable environment for development. Accordingly, causing more instability in the region is not consistent with China’s interests.
China is trying to tell the US that Japan is creating tension in the region. What the US should do is to regulate Japan’s behavior instead of encouraging provocation, by repeating US promises to defend Japan as well as the Diaoyu Islands.
At the same time, China also needs to explain its policy intentions behind the ADIZ.
China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea partly overlaps with South Korea’s military air zone, or KADIZ, and covers the Ieodo, a southernmost submerged rock claimed by Seoul. At the same time, Japan is complicating the situation by trying to unify with the ASEAN countries to counterbalance China. It is also likely that China will set up an ADIZ in the South China Sea. Since Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar have had their own ADIZs, there is the possibility that China’s potential zone will overlap with related countries.
Accordingly, China will clarify its actions for related countries to reduce distrust.
China’s is in the process of maturing its bottom-line thinking, as it will be an important guideline for China’s foreign policies.
As for ADIZ, there have been some positive signals. The Obama administration has advised the country’s civilian carriers to comply with the rules of China’s zone. Even though the government said it has not changed its positions, it is still a starting point for the cooling of unnecessary tension.
Su Xiaohui, Deputy Director, Department of International and Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies.