We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways

Escalating Tensions Over China’s ADIZ

Escalating Tensions Over China’s ADIZ

China is setting up its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and extending it into some of the disputed parts of the East China Sea.

U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific

Not only the neighbouring countries, Japan and South Korea, but the United States are concerned and cautious as it appears to be a calculated Chinese exercise to consolidate its increasing sphere of influence over the zone.

The area includes international air space east of China’s airspace into the East China Sea and up to 130 km. from Japan’s territorial airspace. China’s ADIZ has stirred attention as it overlaps with the zones set up by Japan and South Korea. This was opposed by Japan, South Korea and also by the US as all these countries have carried out their respective flights through this region since China’s announcement last Saturday to set up its ADIZ in this zone as an expression of their defiance to China’s plans to bolster its control over the contested region. The trios response has led to a tense situation in the region as Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and other littoral countries have already contested the rising Chinese presence in this disputed area over the past few months. China has also scrambled its fighter jets to identify and tail 12 American and Japanese aircrafts that entered its newly established ADIZ, raising regional tensions.

The ADIZ is a predefined area over international air space within which the Chinese military will monitor and track aircrafts. China has also required aircraft to notify authorities if their flight plans pass through any portion of the ADIZ, though many other countries only required aircraft to do so if they are heading towards their territorial airspace. Many countries like the US, Japan and India monitor similar zones beyond their immediate territorial airspaces to track aircraft for security purposes. However there are no provisions in international laws governing the setting up of an ADIZ.

The disputed islets are known as Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China over which both these countries have competing claims. In fact, Japan already established its ADIZ in this zone in 1969 and the parts which overlap with China’s ADIZ cover the chain of disputed islands. While Beijing has explained that the reason it to defend China’s air space and boost early warning systems, the Japanese government claims that this is “extremely dangerous as it may lead to miscalculations in the area.”

The move is likely to fuel tensions with Japan and comes at a time when both countries have already sparred over these islands. In recent months both countries have dispatched their patrol boats to enforce their respective claims, and Japan has also scrambled its fighter jets after Chinese drones entering above the islands and threatened recently to shoot them down.

While the dispute is primarily concerned with China and Japan and South Korea, the involvement of the US is incomprehensible because it’s B-52 aircrafts were the first to fly over the disputed zone on Monday. In fact, it appears to be a clear US warning to China to not to bully its neighbours and disturb the balance or peace in the region. The US step has certainly boosted the morale of South Korea which carried out its flights of military aircrafts a day after the US over the Lyado area without informing China and has said it will do so in future. Similarly, Japanese aircrafts flew over this area on Thursday without notifying Beijing. The Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, said that the government was “conducting surveillance activities as usual even after the Chinese notification.” The Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman, Yang Yujan, lashed out at the Japanese government for “tarnishing other countries without reflecting on their own deeds.” Responding to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement calling for China to retract the announcement of its ADIZ, he said, “Should the decision be retracted, we ask the Japanese side to revoke its ADIZ first, we will then consider their demand 44 years later.”

As Japan, South Korea and China are not going to withdraw their ADIZs, the obvious course will be the escalation of tensions among them and the US and South Korea will support Japan to counter the rising Chinese assertions in the region. This will not only destabilise the peace and security of the region, including Southeast Asia and South Asia, but will disturb the peace and security of the whole world as all the actors in the fray are major powers in the world. The best course for the US would be to remain aloof and not push China to take any bold step to firmly establish itself into the region which would only to disturb regional and global peace and security. Rather, the US should encourage China, Japan and South Korea to sort out their differences “through dialogue and consultation” which Beijing has affirmed in respect to Japan.