OSAKA – The international outcry over Beijing’s abrupt establishment last November of an air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea has finally calmed down. China’s unilateral move was sensational because it proclaimed its jurisdiction over the ADIZ by stating it would take coercive measures against foreign aircraft that did not comply with its demands.
China’s establishment of the ADIZ also heightened the sense of crisis — given that the ADIZ challenges Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands — that has grown since Chinese maritime law-enforcement vessels began making provocative passages through the zone more than a year ago.
In the age of jet aircraft, an ADIZ is simply a temporal buffer for identifying friends and foes and, if necessary, for scrambling interceptors to defend territorial airspace. Many countries don’t try to proclaim one unless they’re sure it will be recognized internationally as being legal. During the Cold War, there was a West German ADIZ established in East German airspace, and today’s South Korean ADIZ extends to the southern one-third of North Korean airspace.
Beijing did not need to establish an ADIZ to obtain information on flight plans of incoming commercial aircraft or to receive flights’ real-time electronic data. Such information is already provided under existing arrangements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Prior to departure, all aircraft are required to submit flight plans to the relevant national air traffic control authorities. And they must be equipped with standardized transponders whose signals can be picked up by the authorities’ ground-based radars for automatic identification and tracking.
Obviously China lacks the air power to scramble interceptors around the clock in the ADIZ, its first since the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. And naturally the proclamation itself does not give the country sufficient ground-based and air-borne early warning, surveillance, aerial refueling and other necessary capabilities. In addition, China’s air force still must master standard international rules of engagement for cases in which it deems its airspace has been violated.
Japanese and Western news reports all suggest that neither the two U.S. B-52 strategic bombers that flew into the ADIZ immediately after China’s proclamation nor Japanese routine patrol jet fighters have encountered any Chinese interceptors and radar, although Chinese media have reported otherwise.
China’s ADIZ appears to be nothing more than an instrument of psychological and legal warfare. It has been reported in Japan that Japanese government intelligence had obtained information in the fall of 2012 that the Chinese military leadership had adopted a policy paper that proposed an ADIZ be established in the East China Sea before China deploying patrol aircraft there.
The same Chinese policy paper also reportedly proposed sending maritime vessels and aircraft to the Senkakus, a course of action that has now implemented. This understanding is supported in a Nov. 25 editorial by the Global Times (www.globaltimes.cn/content/827360.shtml#.UuQ909yCjIU), a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party. The editorial proposed establishing a crisis-management mechanism for the East China Sea that would cover the Senkakus’ area.
This seemingly amicable approach is a veiled plot by Beijing to build a Sino-Japanese condominium regime in the Senkakus, thereby nullifying Japan’s position that there exists no territorial question and that the islands are Japan’s under international law.
The policy proposal was also significant in that the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, which decided basic policy lines for the following decade, was held just prior to the article’s publication. This means that top Chinese leaders endorsed the proposal as official policy.
As far as the establishment of the ADIZ is concerned, there should be no concern about whether China’s regime maintains civilian control of the military, at least in procedural terms, although why the civilian leaders accepted the military’s proposal remains to be seen.
In nutshell, Beijing’s ADIZ policy is a deliberate, prepared and executed scheme that the Japanese government expected to confront sooner or later. Now that Beijing has firmly implemented the policy, don’t expect it to call it off anytime soon.
To control the possible negative repercussions of this policy, Japan, the United States and other status quo powers in the international community should not overreact to China’s ADIZ provocation, since it lacks the necessary air power to implement effective military measures.
Taking advantage of the long shadow that its growing military power now casts, China is assaulting Japan, the U.S. and other countries’ psyches by amplifying their fears and anxieties, and trying to destabilize their legal reasoning.
This approach stands in sharp contrast to materialistic Western and Japanese strategic cultures that focus almost exclusively on technology, hardware and organization.
Therefore, it is important to refute China’s jurisdiction claim in principle through the ICAO, since under international law countries are free to set ADIZs up — even in another country’s airspace. In the game over the East China Sea ADIZ, Beijing’s psychological and legal offensives must be effectively countered.
Masahiro Matsumura is a professor of international politics and national security at Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka.
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