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Foreign Policy

The US Should Take an Impartial Stance toward China’s Newly Established ADIZ

Dec 03 , 2013
  • Zhang Junshe

    Researcher, PLA Naval Military Academic Research Institute

On November 23, the Ministry of National Defense issued a statement by the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Establishing the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The move, however, provoked strong protest from Japan, accusing China of one-sidedly setting up the zone, and describing the zone as totally unacceptable. Some US officials also voiced deep concerns over the zone, viewing the development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region. After that, two unarmed U.S. bombers took off from Guam and were in the zone for less than an hour, thundering across the Pacific skies during midday. While the U.S. insisted the training mission was long-planned and was not in reaction to China’s latest declaration, it came just days after China set up the zone. Clearly, the bomber mission underscores Washington’s immediate rejection of China’s move.

China had already expected such Japanese negative response, as Japan has always accused or tarnished other countries without reflecting on their own deeds, and Japanese authorities often play up the so-called China threat through the media and openly create confrontations. But the Chinese are surprised to hear such unconvincing comments from US high ranking officials. The biased US stance and reaction to China’s newly set-up ADIZ has provoked much anger in Chinese netizens, further eroding good feelings toward the US inside the hearts of many ordinary Chinese.

Some people in the US and other western countries argue that if China’s new zone did not include disputed maritime territory, if its requirements for compliance applied only to aircraft heading into Chinese airspace, and if neighbors like Japan had been consulted ahead of the announcement, then there would be little or nothing for others to object to. But I think such comments are not made based on facts. Indeed, it is unfair to accuse China of unilaterally altering the status quo in the region by setting up the East China Sea ADIZ. Apart from Japan establishing and expanding its ADIZ to include China’s Diaoyu Island without consultation with China, there are several reasons that support and justify China’s move.

First, the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone has a sound legal basis. It conforms to the Charter of the United Nations, which gives the right of self-defense to all sovereign countries. It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defense rights. It is established to guard against potential air threats. It sets aside time for early warning and helps defend the country’s sovereign airspace.

Second, the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone accords with common international practices The Chinese government has just followed common international practices in the establishment of the zone, with aims of protecting its state sovereignty and territorial and airspace security, and maintaining flying orders. Since the 1950s, over 20 countries, including the United States, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan itself, have successively established such zones. The United States set up at least five ADIZ zones, namely, the North American, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam air defense identification zones and the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (DC SFRA). After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the US demarcated an identification zone off Japan’s coasts, but it was under the control of the US military in Japan. Since 1969 ,when the US transferred the management of the ADIZ to Japan, Japan has expanded the zone westward toward China at least twice, once in 1972, the other in 2010, with its outer limit extending to only about 100 kilometers from China’s coast and covering the disputed maritime territory, China’s Diaoyu Islands. However, territorial disputes still exist, and the zone is not recognized by Japan’s neighbors, Russia and China.

Third, rules for the ADIZs vary from country to country. There are no global standards on the regulations of the identification zone, so there is not much difference between China’s designation and that of Japan’s. Japan follows a warning sequence for unidentified aircraft:radar detection, emergency calls, fighter emergency launch, requiring forced landing, and shooting warning. Although the United States claims it does not recognize the right of a coastal nation to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter national airspace, nor does it apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. airspace, there are some public reports on the website which point out that in actual practice the U.S. does attempt to apply its external ADIZ to military aircraft which pass through its extended ADIZ without intending to enter U.S. sovereign territory. A U.S. Air Force university dissertation states: these regulations do not pertain to military aircraft, but to enter US airspace, without inducing the scrambling of fighter interceptors, these rules must be complied with and followed. The US does not claim sovereignty over these zones per se, but does closely monitor and request information of all objects entering the zone. Meanwhile, Canada requires any aircraft that wishes to fly in or through the boundary to file either a Defense Visual Flight Rules (DVFR) flight plan or an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan before crossing the ADIZ. The aircraft must have an operational radar transponder and maintain two-way radio contact while approaching and crossing the North American ADIZ.

Fourth, the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace. China has made it clear that China’s East China Sea ADIZ has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace. And recent days have witnessed the fact that the freedom of over-flight in this zone was not affected. Rules for the zones vary from country to country, but all have the same defensive nature. Although countries like China retain the right to identify and monitor foreign aircraft entering their air defense identification zones, they do not deny aircraft entry. They will only intercept and eject aircraft that pose a security threat, which is the usual way many countries practice in their ADIZs.

Last, China’s set-up of the East China Sea ADIZ is not a unilateral move that may change the status quo in the area. The Diaoyu Islands issue is obviously the core to the issue of the air defense zone. It is natural for China to include the Diaoyu Islands in its newly set up ADIZ because China has sufficient historical and legal basis to claim sovereignty over the Diaoyu Island and its surrounding islets. Everyone knows the dispute over sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands has long existed between China and Japan. But the current situation over the Diaoyu Islands totally derived from the wrong words and unilateral deeds of the Japanese side. The status quo of the Diaoyu islands, which had lasted for about four decades under the principle of shelving the dispute, was broken more than one year ago when the Japanese government launched a unilateral move to “purchase” and “nationalize” the islands. Its move violated and broke the consensus and tacit understanding reached by China and Japan when establishing their diplomatic relations in the 1970s Under this consensus and tacit understanding, both sides agreed to set aside disputes over the islands and avoid taking any provocative measures. Just because of the observance by two sides, the situation in this area has generally remained calm. The Japanese side is responsible for worsening the situation and jeopardizing the stability in East Asia at large, and that China is forced to respond. Obviously, it is Japan to blame for upsetting the status quo over the islands. The farce of “buying” the Chinese territories is a sign of Japan’s expanding nationalism and rampancy of right-wing forces, as well as the dangerous provocations of Japanese politicians, which should be identified as the real danger in the region even Washington should be vigilant against. Ignoring the dangerous tendency in Japan could prove to be risky and might jeopardize the US national interests.

The United States government has repeatedly said that it does not take a position on territorial disputes between China and Japan. So I hope the United States would keep its promise and maintain an impartial stance toward China’s newly established ADIZ. It is common that the ADIZs of two neighboring countries overlap each other. Japan should answer China’s call to sit down and coordinate and negotiate with China so as to maintain flight safety. This is also the only way to maintain peace and stability in this region. It has been China’s consistent stance that both countries seek effective ways of managing differences through dialogue. The current problem is that Japan has avoided conducting substantial negotiations with China, Here is where the United States can play a constructive role.

Zhang Junshe is the senior colonel and former deputy director of Naval Research Institute, PLA Navy, China.

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