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Foreign Policy

Managing Differences Constructively

Dec 09 , 2013

The title of this essay is taken from what the US Vice President Joe Biden addressed when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 4, 2013. If this was what meant, it looks that the VP and the US are getting more mature. Even if this didn’t tell all truth, it still illustrated where the US was acceptable, as the sole superpower in the world, in dealing with all sorts of delicate international issues.

Shen Dingli

During his visit to China, Mr. Biden has discussed with China over a range of issues. Since China has just announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), America shall be most sensitive about this, as it has openly demanded China to revise its rules of this ADIZ. Both China and the US shall not shun the issue, since failure in addressing it adequately could add to their suspicion, impairing their effort to co-develop a new type of major-country relationship. Then how to tackle it – managing differences constructively, as put by Mr. Biden.

The world is composed of various countries and regions, with its members naturally forming complicated relationship such as cooperation, competition and even confrontation. As the situation stands, defense, offence and counterattack would be their usual means employed in the domain of their national security, be such purpose defensive or offensive., The ever-evolving security relations between among nations thus constitute the whole chain of international security ties.

It is the core mission for a sovereign country to protect its territory, territorial waters (if any) as well as the airspace above commonly known as the territorial space up to some 80 kilometers. It is an evident necessity, therefore, for a coastal country to extend its monitoring and early-warning range beyond the baseline of its territorial water for the purpose of effective protection of its territory and territorial waters. The United States established its own air defense identification zone (ADIZ) as early as in 1950 to include high sea hundreds of miles away from its baseline territorial waters, deeply intruding into the high seas. However, though the US demands all foreign flight vehicle entering its zone and fly toward its land to notify their flight info in advance, it has neither expanded its territorial waters nor banned the entry of foreign flight vehicles. At times of need, however, it will still send its jet fighters to follow a foreign aircraft.

Sixty-three years after the US set up its first ADIZ, China has followed suit and taken some experiences from others. First, China’s East China Sea ADIZ includes its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and parts of the high seas, so as to advance its surveillance range. Second, China doesn’t expand its territory and territorial waters. Third, China requires that foreign flight vehicle entering its ADIZ to submit notification to facilitate China’s identification. Forth, China will exercise independent identification in case of uncooperative foreign parties. Fifth, Chinese armed forces will take appropriate action per specific circumstances to respond to threats posed by foreign aircraft flying in this ADIZ.

International law has granted all countries the freedom of navigation/flight in high seas and airspace above. It requires, nevertheless, that such navigation/flight within other’s EEZ and space be conducted peacefully, properly taking care of security interests of the costal countries. It is true that international law has not mandated to establish ADIZ by all costal countries. It is up to a specific country to judge if international law alone has sufficiently protected national interests. Establishment of an ADIZ shall in no way impair, however, the freedom of flight over space above high sea, and freedom of peaceful flight over EEZ space above EEZ. China has taken this into its consideration when announcing its ADIZ.

Even so, it is still necessary for China to publicize, explain and communicate with the others so its intent of creating its first ADIZ will be better understood. It will also take some time for China to set its pattern of behaviors and familiarize the world with it through mutual interaction. So far, a growing number of foreign civil aviation agencies have submitted to China their plan of flying over this zone, though some still have complains and difficulty to cooperate, showing the process to understand and acceptance. China shall demonstrate its patience, confidence and will to exercise effective control of this ADIZ, while cooperating with the outside to manage differences constructively.

During his visit to Beijing, the US Vice-president Biden has shown his willingness to address disputes in a constructive way, indicating his statesmanship of positive attitude toward complex international issues. China has also come up with a principle of balance and showed a great degree of sincerity, as evidenced by its statement of December 4 to keep in dialogue and communication with Japan over technical issues on the basis of equality and mutual respect, so as to maintain flight safety and order in pertinent airspace, corporately. So long as Japan takes a pragmatic stand, acknowledging its territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea, ending infringing on China’s rights and interests, and cooperating with China in security and development matters, this region will be one of cooperation zone instead of risk zone.

Shen Dingli is Professor and Associate Dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.

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