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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2732

Three Overlapping Air Defence Identification Zones: potential for a major trouble in the East China Sea

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Last month, China took an unprecedented step in declaring an Air Defence Identification Zone – ADIZ – covering the skies over the East China Sea, extending towards a part of the South China Sea, which, in turn, outraged its immediate neighbours and forced the United States to reciprocate the provocative move in kind, perhaps to test the waters.

With the arbitrary declaration, China wanted all aircrafts, both military and civilian, that fly over the ADIZ to submit the flight plans to the Chinese authorities in advance. “Failure to do so will result in some form of military intervention,” China warned the potential violators, without specifying what the consequences would be.

The next day, however, the US Navy flew two unarmed B-52 bombers over the ADIZ without informing China about its intention – in advance or at the time of flying. No aircrafts from the Chinese Air Force took to the skies to challenge the two gigantic bombers; nor did the Chinese condemn the US for the mischievous move.

Two days later, however, a spokesman for the Chinese Defence Ministry just brushed the episode aside by simply saying that they were aware of the US move.

China, Japan and Taiwan have been claiming the sovereignty of Senkaku islands in the East China Sea for decades. The sea around the uninhabited islands is thought to be rich in oil and gas deposits. The three Asian economic powers and South Korea are desperate to address the issue of energy needs, which has been on the rise in proportion to the impressive, collective economic growth of the four nations.

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Senkaku

The tussle got a turn for the worse last year, when Japan bought the islands from a private owner, while effectively quashing the prospect of them changing hands in a commercial deal. Since then, much to Japan’s dismay, China has been flexing its military muscle in the East China Sea with a series of provocative moves, which made the political chasm between the two Asian powers irreversibly grow wider and wider.

The military corporation between Japan and the US, meanwhile, are getting stronger by the day in the presence of Chinese military manoeuvres in the sea. Japan, South Korea and the US made it clear that the Chinese unilateral decision to change the status quo was not acceptable.

Having been buoyed by the presence of US aircraft carriers in the East and South China Seas, South Korean and Japanese aircrafts started flying over the ADIZ without informing the Chinese authorities. China refrained from taking defensive actions. Nor did it show any appetite for reciprocation.

In fact, much to everyone’s surprise, China is maintaining a cryptic silence over the repeated violations of its ADIZ, not only by its neighbours, but also by the world’s only Superpower, the US. China does not show any sign of backing down either.

To make matters worse, Japan and South Korea declared their own ADIZs, which literally overlap that of China.

In short, the three regional powers have created a maritime ‘amphitheatre’ for a ‘fight’, if they choose, of course, while defying each other’s will.

The situation has put the United States in a precarious position, in terms of resources, rapidly-evolving global priorities and inevitable economic consequences: For instance, the US Navy will be compelled to maintain its fleet in the East and South China seas for the foreseeable future unless sanity breaks out over and around Senkaku Islands.

The US, while condemning the Chinese move, warned about the possibility of making miscalculations in the current situation by the parties involved in the conflict. A few days ago, a Chinese warship and a US warship narrowly avoided a serious collision around the disputed islands, despite the best calculations made in the realm of navigation.

At present, Japan seems to be the country which feels the pinch more than any other country in the region. Shizo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, was on a charm offensive this week, while offering the members of the ASEAN numeric perks with the emphasis of the need of existing in harmony. His tone particularly seemed to have struck a chord with Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia, which share a bygone enmity towards China.

Although, the US is honouring its contractual obligations to Japan and South Korea, it may be wary of forming a robust alliance against China, as Japan and South Korea do not seem to be keen on Seeing Eye to eye on many issues, due to their historical hostilities. Their declaration of ADIZ clearly shows that the two nations have their own scores to settle, instead of taking on China in a unified move.

It goes without saying that the unilateral declaration of ADIZ has already escalated the arms race in the region at an alarming rate. In addition, as the US put it, the potential for making miscalculations is growing by the day, as no nation seems to be willing to take a step backward in order to diffuse the tension.

Most military observers are worried about China’s ominous silence over the deliberate – and repeated - violations of its ADIZ by the neighbours. As the third nation on the planet to successfully land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, it makes perfect sense to assume that China may have something up in sleeves, in the event of the humiliation reaching the critical mass in the national psyche.

If the military manoeuvres and corresponding reactions get out of hand, the situation may easily turn ugly with potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole world.

- Asian Tribune -

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