Saturday, November 30, 2013

Responses to China’s New Air Defense Zone

China ADIZ
Photo from

         On November 23rd, the Chinese government shocked everyone when they declared a vast area in the East China Sea to be under a new Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  The zone was immediately controversial due in no small part to the fact that the area contains such disputed territories as the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China) which are claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwan. The zone also includes Ieodo Island, currently controlled by South Korea.  Also, in the South China Sea, the new air defense zone includes intersecting claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.  Many of China's neighbors view the move as yet another step toward hegemonic growth on China's part, and their progression toward greater control into the blue water.
       It has been extremely interesting to note the reaction from many of the states impacted.  Beijing declared that all aircraft entering the zone must pre-report a fight plan and identification and be willing to obey Chinese orders.  On Tuesday, of last week, the United States flew two unannounced B-52 bombers through the area, in flagrant disregard for the new Chinese declaration, but incurred no incident.  The increasingly nationalistic segment of Chinese society, and the commentators and bloggers thereof, were quick to decry what they viewed as an incursion by the United States and the lack of sufficient response by the Chinese government.  In short order, the Japanese and the South Koreans followed the United States’ lead with their own unannounced military flights thorough the ADIZ. 
       However, not all of the responses to the air defense zone declaration nor the Chinese counter-response have been so simple.  The Republic of Korea immediately and vocally demanded a re-drawing of the air defense zone, before they conducted  their flights into the area.  Australia officials sent for the Chinese Ambassador to their country so that they might express their concerns interpersonally and privately, but the Australian Foreign Minister was much more public about her country’s opposition to the zone.  The United States at once denounced what they felt as an attempt by the Chinese to upset the status quo in the region and led the way in defying the zone militarily.  However, the Obama administration is now urging American civilian airliners to adhere to the Chinese demands of the zone, to prevent any unintended consequences.  This is already being viewed by some as a Chinese win in a battle of wills between to the two countries, unfortunately.  
ADIZ Overlap
Photo from
The Japanese, whose air defense zone is overlapped by the new Chinese claim, have taken a multi-faceted approach in their opposition thus far.  While quickly following the United States’ lead to defiantly fly military aircraft through the zone; Tokyo, unlike Washington, is urging the Japanese civilian airliners who were voluntarily complying with the Chinese demands, to stop.  The Japanese are now looking at their options in the United Nations.  Japanese officials have asked the International Civil Aviation Administration (a UN agency) to look into how China’s new declaration may threaten civilian airliners; this is likely in an attempt to gather together even more international opposition to the  ADIZ declaration.

       The Chinese counter-response has been equally murky.  Soon after the Japanese and Korean "incursions" into their newly declared ADIZ, the Chinese sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into the area to patrol the zone.  In spite of this, the Chinese government also attempted to downplay earlier threats of military retaliation.  One Chinese official recently "clarified" that the zone is not a no-fly zone, and that it was incorrect to assume that China would shoot down any unannounced planes.  This dual response seems to indicate that Chinese claims to this ADIZ will remain firm, and their monitoring and escort of uncooperative flights may increase, even while they continue the attempt to verbally decrease fears of military retaliation. 

        Going forward, it will be worthwhile to monitor whether the actions and counter-actions over this issue by each state involved is in keeping with a traditional, unitary rational-actor model of national security policy decision-making.  Or is a model that emphasizes either organizations or bureaucratic politics in the different defense architectures already starting to emerge as better able to describe the nuanced phenomena we are witnessing.  To be sure, a in-depth follow-up after some time has passed is in order.


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