Illustration: Peter C.Espina/GT
Washington's maladroit handling of China's newly announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) unnecessarily muddies the waters and raises tensions over the East China Sea. Rather than reacting calmly in a diplomatic manner, the US immediately militarized the situation by sending B-52 bombers into China's zone.
No doubt Asians will draw conclusions from Washington's latest "bull in the China shop" approach to regional security issues. Some conclusions may not be favorable to the US and its long-term interests, given this latest example of US cowboy behavior.
Aviation around the globe is governed under international law by the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, and is coordinated and regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a part of the UN system.
An ADIZ is defined by legal experts to be an area in airspace over water or land which may not necessarily be over the sovereign territory of a state in which identification, locations, and control of all aircraft must be provided in the interest of national security.
Washington's berating China over its new ADIZ gives the appearance of double standards. The US in fact maintains four ADIZ zones: the Contiguous US ADIZ, Alaska ADIZ, Guam ADIZ and the Hawaii ADIZ.
There are over 20 countries in the world which have ADIZs including the UK, Pakistan, and India. South Korea established its ADIZ in 1951, and Japan established its ADIZ in the 1960s and extended it in 2010.
ADIZ areas are not directly under the Chicago Convention, but can lend support to the convention's objectives of promoting peace and security, legal scholars say. ADIZ areas operate under the procedures given by the countries which establish them.
The US has its own unique procedures for its four ADIZ areas, and it has its own unique procedures for the US military to deal with foreign ADIZ areas, such as the procedures found in the US navy's Commander's Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations.
The Obama administration's heated reaction to China's ADIZ announcement was directed not only against the Chinese ADIZ generally, but also against China's inclusion of the Diaoyu Islands in it.
Washington's accusation that the zone is a destabilizing move implies that China does not have the right to establish such a zone while Japan does.
But how is it that over 20 countries around the world established such zones and have been within their rights to do so while Washington berates China?
In fact, the US action is unprecedented as no such formal protest against the establishment of an ADIZ has been lodged before against any country, experts say.
Japan includes the Diaoyu Islands within its ADIZ. Why should China not do the same? Given that the islands are a well-known matter of international legal dispute, both sides would seem to have the right to include them in their respective ADIZ areas.
For over four decades, there has been disagreement in US policy circles over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands with respect to their inclusion in the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.
Some US officials, such as Walter Mondale when he was vice president of the US, maintained that the islands do not fall under the treaty obligations of the US. Other officials leaning toward the Japanese side, such as Kurt Campbell, alleged that they do fall under the treaty. The Obama administration follows the Campbell line.
Washington says it is neutral in the territorial dispute, but its actions clearly do not match its words.
By including these disputed islands within the mutual defense treaty, Washington binds itself unnecessarily to the Japanese side, and thus is not neutral. Irresponsible actions concerning these islands by an increasingly extremist Japan could quite unnecessarily plunge the US into a war in a worst-case scenario.
China is well within its rights under international law and practice to establish an ADIZ in order to enhance its national security. It is certainly time for Washington to drop its Cold War thinking and cowboy behavior in the Asia-Pacific region.
The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. firstname.lastname@example.org