WASHINGTON – A two-pronged U.S. strategy toward China over its contentious new air defense identification zone has baffled Japan, which relies heavily on Washington in dealing with Beijing’s military expansion.
With regard to China’s call for prior notification of foreign flights in the ADIZ, the United States showed signs Friday of making a concession on the operation of commercial aircraft but kept playing hardball militarily.
The U.S. State Department surprised Japanese officials as it effectively advised U.S. airlines to meet the Chinese call to submit flight plans before their aircraft enter the air defense zone set up over the East China Sea.
“The U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” aviation notices issued by foreign countries, the department said in a note titled “China’s Declared ADIZ — Guidance for U.S. Air Carriers.”
The department added, however, “Our expectation does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ.”
The department took the position only six days after the U.S. secretaries of state and defense sharply criticized China for establishing an air defense zone that overlaps Japan’s and South Korea’s. Beijing even warned of a military response against airplanes without such a notification.
The U.S. government also said it will work closely with its allies including Japan in dealing with the abrupt Chinese move, a pledge that heartened the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The effective advice by the department for U.S. airlines to follow the Chinese request first reached Japan as media reports.
“I cannot imagine” the U.S. government calling on airlines of the country to submit flight plans to China, a Japanese government official said, trying to play down the reported position by Japan’s closest security ally.
Other officials at the Foreign Ministry, the prime minister’s office and an aide to Abe reacted similarly, with one of them saying, “The reports must have been false.”
“The Japanese and U.S. governments are in the same position that they will never accept the Chinese air defense identification zone,” the first Japanese government official said on condition of anonymity.
The issue of how to deal with the Chinese ADIZ is expected to take center stage in meetings between U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Japanese leaders, including Abe, during his stay in Japan starting Monday.
The U.S. Defense Department defied China’s establishment of the ADIZ by flying two military aircraft into the zone without notifying Chinese authorities of the drill.
Japan has urged China to withdraw the demarcation of the zone. Australia has voiced strong opposition to the move while South Korea expressed regret over it.