China's ADIZ is for more than just Diaoyu sovereignty

By Xie Chao Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-2 19:08:02

Illustration: Peter C.Espina/GT

Illustration: Peter C.Espina/GT

China's recent announcement it was establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has generated waves of speculation about its motives among domestic and international observers.

On the domestic front, posts on Weibo are praising China's bluntness in asserting its sovereignty rights over the Diaoyu Islands, and the strategic community is asking whether the timing and the issuing of such an announcement are in China's national interests.

On the international front, the US and Japan are among the fiercest opponents, by violating the identification line to test China's response. International scholars are speculating that China might be aiming for a showdown with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands, or simply underestimating US and Japanese reactions, because according to their observations, China's response to intruding US and Japanese airplanes shows it has not made full preparations to enforce its declared ADIZ rules.

In-depth analysis is required here. Considering the US' military dominance, it would be unrealistic for China to enforce such a regulation over US airplanes. China has gained an edge with its legitimate claims over the Diaoyu Islands and its military presence there, and now it is getting increasing international recognition. It seems that there is no reason for China to change a working policy.

Why would China choose this timing to announce an ADIZ over the East China Sea? Is it simply a tactical response to Abe's tough talk, or a strategic move with larger goals?

First of all, it would be useful to understand how ADIZs came into being. Ironically, their origins can be traced back to the WWII years and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the war, in an attempt to assert control of coastal airspace, the US developed an air defense command and control structure in 1950. There are now five ADIZs around North America, one of which is operated by Canada. During the Cold War years, ADIZs were mainly a game between major powers with global reach, for instance, the US and the Soviet Union.

People are familiar with the island chains that tie China's strategic naval space to blue seas, but seldom realize that there is an ADIZ chain surrounding China, enforced by the US and its allies. That's why we are often deluged by Japanese news stating that its airplanes made an emergency takeoff to counter China's airplanes patrolling over the Diaoyu Islands, with the excuse that China planes penetrating into the ADIZ.

Hence the strategic concerns of China setting up an ADIZ will be twofold. One is short-term, namely using the ADIZ rules to challenge the presence of Japanese flights over the Diaoyu Islands. If Japan doesn't change its pattern of patrols, which seems unlikely, China's air presence will have more legitimate power.

The other is long-term, namely normative change, or we can call it dealing with the US using its own methods. If the US doesn't observe the ADIZ rules it took the time to establish and pay due respect to China's ADIZ, China's future air presence in the globe will find more legitimate and moral standing.

Nonetheless, both the US and Japan have said they will ignore the Chinese ADIZ and disregard Chinese orders, to make sure that the Chinese version of ADIZ regulation does not add to customary law. But there is no need to worry about that.

In the short run, China can take one step and look around before taking another, since China has all the initiative and flexibility on how and to what extent such rules will be implemented.

An uninvited presence over another country's ADIZ was and is a way to claim rights and show concern. If others can do this to China, China can do this to others. China's grand strategy aims for a future role as a great power, and Japan is just a current concern for the time being.

The establishment of an ADIZ aims at larger strategic goals than the Diaoyu Islands and will aid China's strategic initiatives in the long run.

The author is a visiting doctoral student at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus