US response to China's ADIZ biased

Updated: 2013-12-23 07:27

By Ted Galen Carpenter (China Daily)

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Beijing's announcement of a new Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea on Nov 23 has evoked an angry response from the United States and its principal East Asian allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea. On Dec 17, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington will not recognize China's ADIZ.

Some observers might fault the Chinese government for not fully discussing the plan with the affected countries before making the announcement, but the ADIZ itself is certainly not an outrageous measure. It merely requires aircraft transiting the zone to submit their flight plans to the Chinese authorities, maintain radio contact and respond promptly to any radio queries.

Under ordinary circumstances, the establishment of such requirements for the air and oceanic approaches to the Chinese mainland would seem to be unobjectionable. But there were two aspects to the new ADIZ that immediately led to controversy. First, the new zone overlapped with existing zones that Japan and the ROK had enforced years ago. Second, part of the zone included the airspace over China's Diaoyu Islands, which Japan occupies and insists on calling the Senkaku Islands.

The reactions from Tokyo, Seoul, and Washington were immediate and uncompromising, if not belligerent. Japanese and ROK leaders denounced the new zone, and emphasized that neither their civilian nor military aircraft would respect it or comply with any of the requirements. Indeed, the Japanese and ROK governments instructed their countries' airlines to ignore those requirements.

Washington's response regarding civilian aircraft was milder and more sensible. US officials suggested that civilian flights comply with the identification rules for safety reasons. On the other hand, the Barack Obama administration joined its Japanese and ROK allies in a clumsy, insensitive gesture that greatly increased tensions. Just days after the announcement of the ADIZ by China, the US, Japan and the ROK dispatched unannounced military flights through the zone. In Washington's case, the flight consisted of B-52 bombers.

That was a wholly unnecessary, provocative act. The overlapping ADIZs are a sensitive diplomatic issue that cries out for sober dialogue among relevant parties. A grandiose, defiant show of military power does not help matters in the slightest.

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