That guidance (to paraphrase Hearst’s famous admonition to Frederic Remington on the occasion of the Spanish-American War, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war,”) pretty much sums up the interaction of the government of Japan and the Western media on the matter of the Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ.
I’m not going to engage in Fisking by bulk here, but Western outlets have unanimously spun the Chinese ADIZ as some reckless stunt to challenge Japan over the Senkaku airspace.
Basically, as I describe in an article for Asia Times Online, China’s Defense Zone Creates a Flap, the Chinese ADIZ does tweak Japan on the matter of the Senkakus by extending the southeast corner of the envelope to cover the islands.
However, the ADIZ covers all of the East China Sea between Japan and the PRC. It is not an assertion of sovereignty. It creates a zone in which unidentified aircraft are required to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. It’s an early warning system meant to provide time cushion in an era of high speed warplanes.
America has an ADIZ.
For aviation enthusiasts, here is a very interesting and somewhat technical description provided by the FAA on enforcement of the USADIZ.
Spoiler: in principle, if not depth of detail, the implementation looks pretty much like the Chinese ADIZ—except it’s stricter, requires prefiling a flight plan, and specifies a rather onerous-looking tolerance of plus/minus 5 minutes and 20 nautical miles for deviations from the plan.
Guess what. Japan also has an ADIZ.
The Chinese ADIZ directly parallels and overlaps the Japanese ADIZ—a fact that has escaped most of the press in its vaporings over the issue. (From Taylor Fravel’s tweet: yellow line = Chinese ADIZ; red line = Japanese ADIZ; red field = overlap.)
So, if properly implemented and respected by both sides, the Chinese ADIZ is stabilizing, not destabilizing.
Abe told a parliamentary session that China’s declaration of the zone above the islands (known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) altered the state of affairs in the East China Sea and escalated a tense situation.
“The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace,” Abe said during an upper house session. “It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well.”
I’m assuming Abe’s refusal to accept the Chinese ADIZ draws strength from US concerns about the PRC move voiced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry. In contrast to previous PRC-Japan jostling, the United States has clearly lined up with Japan and also went the extra mile to reaffirm that the mutual defense treaty covers the Senkakus.
The DoD statement reads:
“The United States is deeply concerned by the People’s Republic of China announcement today that it is establishing an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea. We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region. This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.
“This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.
“The United States is conveying these concerns to China through diplomatic and military channels, and we are in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region, including Japan.
“We remain steadfast in our commitments to our allies and partners. The United States reaffirms its longstanding policy that Article V of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands.”
In my personal opinion, the US statement is not relating to China’s declaration of an ADIZ (after all, both the United States and Japan have them) but in the fact that the PRC declared the ADIZ unilaterally and, in its ambiguous wording of the regulations, conveyed the implication that US warplanes in the zone might be expected to obey the instructions of whoever was enforcing the Chinese ADIZ.
If the US military has one absolute imperative in East Asia, it is its ability to sail where it wants and fly where it wants subject to some extremely limited and carefully parsed limits imposed by international law (for instance, by a judicious exploitation of loopholes in the Law of the Sea Treaty—which the US hasn’t even ratified—the US Navy has openly repudiated Chinese objections and affirmed the right to conduct military surveillance detrimental to the PRC’s national security within the PRC’s Exclusive Economic Zone).
As for aircraft, the most famous incident relating to the PRC, of course, was the collision of a Chinese fighter jet with a US EP-3 surveillance plane over China’s EEZ off Hainan Island in April 2001. Despite vociferous complaints by the PRC, the U.S. took an effective and convincing stand that it had the right to continue the surveillance flights.
Based on a quick survey of the literature, US armed forces assert the right to fly through any international airspace without restriction. However, as a concession to the anxieties of other governments about unidentified aircraft near their borders, at least in the case of Peru, I did find that the US encouraged Peru to check the flight plans on file and approach the planes, rather gingerly I expect, to confirm their markings. In other words, no radio chatter, no transponder stuff.
If the United States is going to initiate AirSea Battle, in other words, it isn’t going to tip its hand when it enters the Chinese ADIZ, or help out Chinese air defense by turning on its transponders.
The PRC is not going to be able to challenge that freedom just by publishing some regulations.
Despite the US decision to tilt toward Japan on the ADIZ issue, I expect that this story will join the platter of mislabeled China-threat nothingburgers heaped up by the media, including but not limited to the “PRC Coast Guard regs allow China to stop ships transiting the South China Sea” canard and the “China claims Okinawa” BS.