Why China’s New Air-Defense Zone Matters

The U.S. has declared such zones for decades, but Beijing’s is different

  • Share
  • Read Later
U.S. Government

China’s unilateral imposition of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has triggered fear of mistakes that could lead to war with neighboring Japan — and pull the U.S. in as Tokyo’s ally.

Who started all this air-defense zoning, anyway?

It’s worth noting that such zones aren’t, like paper, gunpowder and printing, a Chinese creation. Beijing’s Nov. 23 declaration of its East Asian zone was its first ever, according to Peter Dutton, an air-defense-identification-zone expert at the U.S. Naval War College. In contrast, the U.S. has had such zones dating back to World War II.

Vice President Joseph Biden arrived on Wednesday in Beijing, where the zone didn’t come up in public comments from him or Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the continuing tug-of-war over the South and East China seas is a “combustible” issue that China’s declaration didn’t help. “It’s not that the ADIZ itself is new or unique,” he said on Wednesday. “The biggest concern that we have is how it was done so unilaterally and so immediately without any consultation. That’s not a wise course of action to take for any country.”

So what’s behind China’s claim — and how does it differ from those asserted by the U.S. and nearly two dozen other nations?

Beijing’s move is a ploy to assert creeping sovereignty over the small group of islands known as the Senkaku in Japan, which currently administers the islands, and the Diaoyu in China. Totaling a scant 688 hectares, they’re wedged among those two nations and Taiwan.

China declared that all commercial and military flights into its first-ever ADIZ must provide Beijing with its flight plans and be on standby to communicate with Chinese authorities while inside the zone. Failure to comply could result in unspecified, but probably not very pleasant, “defense emergency measures.” While the Pentagon responded by dispatching a pair of B-52s into the zone without telling China beforehand two days after the Chinese demand, the State Department told U.S. commercial airlines on Friday that they should comply with Beijing’s request.

But there are some key differences:

NOBLE EAGLE

Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker

An Air Force F-15, outfitted with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, patrols the eastern coast of the U.S.

— China’s zone overlaps an older zone claimed by Japan. That is not a diplomatic way of inflating one’s sphere of influence. Japan and South Korea have told their national airlines not to go along with China’s demand.

— China’s requirement that flights passing through the zone provide Beijing with notice of such flights, even if their ultimate destination is not China, is unusual. The U.S. generally doesn’t require such notice for aircraft simply flying through the zone en route to elsewhere, according to a Federal Aviation Administration official (although they must carry a working transponder, identifying themselves and their location). “It wasn’t the declaration of the ADIZ that actually was destabilizing,” Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday. “It was their assertion that they would cause all aircraft entering the ADIZ to report, regardless of whether they were intending to enter into the sovereign airspace of China. And that is destabilizing.”

— The U.S. is an island nation, and has air-defense identification zones along its coasts. It is surrounded largely by international waters, and not by sovereign states that control the airspace above them. Given that, it made sense that the U.S. declared such zones — unilaterally, to be sure, just like China — several times during the Cold War when concerns of a Soviet bomber attack were high. Much ADIZ enforcement is done by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint U.S.-Canadian military organization.

It’s obvious why Foggy Bottom’s pinstripes want U.S. airlines to comply with China’s demands. “Better safe than sorry,” is their motto. They well recall the nightmare of wayward Korean Air Flight 007.

“It [came] from the ocean without identification,” a Soviet air-force general radioed his boss on Sept. 1, 1983. “I am giving the order to attack if it crosses the state border.”

A short time later, a Soviet Su-17 fighter shot down KAL 007, killing all 269 aboard, including U.S. Representative Larry McDonald, a Democrat from Georgia.

The only downside to the State Department’s decision that U.S. airlines bow to China’s demand is that it strengthens China’s claim to the airspace involved and, by inference, to the islands below.

U.S. officials insist that complying with the Chinese directive doesn’t compromise the status quo. But that’s more wishful-thinking rationalization than realpolitik.

37 comments
PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

"Given that, it made sense that the U.S. declared such zones — unilaterally, to be sure, just like China". 

You must be educated in the US. Many countries did the same long before China! Why don't you do a little more research to see how Japan declared such ADIZ?

Al_Murphy
Al_Murphy

I think more blame goes to the Chinese Communist for stirring up a nationalistic fervor by mainpulating ill feeling towards Japan that already exists in China.  Japan is an easy target that serves as a diversion from their domestic problems.  The violent public protests in China toward Japan that was no doubt approved by the Communist Party and possibly even orchestrated by them is creating fear in Japan and help increase the base of the Japanese Right-Wing faction.  The large Chinese military build up is not only feared by Japan but is the reason why US forces are pivoting toward Asia.  The ADIZ, Senkaku is just the tip of the iceberg.

DavidBuhr
DavidBuhr

It seems to me that Japan is on a bout of expansionism again. Trouble with Russia over the islands to the north, trouble with Korea over an island in the east, trouble with the Chinese over islands to the south, so whose next?Trouble with the US?


It appears to me that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, the US is encouraging Japan's expansionism in an effort to contain China.. If that holds true, then I believe the American pivot to Asia will prove to be a huge mistake with huge consequences. Has the US not learned anything in the last 70 years?

HaavBline
HaavBline

"The U.S. is an island nation..."  Say WHAT?  Who is going to take such a distorted argument seriously? Good thing I did not waste my time reading this garbage before I spotted this ridiculous claim.

qfiverhk
qfiverhk

What is all the fuss ? ADIZ is not a no-fly zone. You don't need approval to pass the Chinese declared zone. All you need to do is to identify yourself. Every country has the right to national security. Rules are set to suit the country's unique circumstances. There is no international laws governing ADIZ. China thinks the current US rules do not meet their security needs. It is within the rights to have their own rules. 

simion1232006
simion1232006

'The U.S. is an island nation, and has air-defense identification zones along its coasts. ' I can not believe what he said? Anyone explain it to me


limhuang
limhuang

China is so much powerful to bow down to Japan and USA. China has to stop buying junks from USA because USA used the money to buy weapons against china.

SpikeLee
SpikeLee

"The U.S. generally doesn’t require such notice for aircraft simply flying through the zone en route to elsewhere, according to a Federal Aviation Administration official (although they must carry a working transponder, identifying themselves and their location)."

So, the U.S. does require notice for aircraft simply flying through the zone en route to elsewhere, via carrying a working transponder, identifying themselves and their location?

I approve of reporters fact checking their sources.  It's just new to me to see it in TIME, so I want to make sure I understand correctly.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Some people are not accepting the new party line. --Japan good, China bad.  

 Just remember, it's the opposite of what it was seventy years ago, and all those US soldiers, sailors and Marines who died fighting Japanese militarism? Forget them.

ChinaLee
ChinaLee

China's ADIZ (ie. air defense identification zone) is one-tenth the size of China's landmass.

On the other hand, the JAPANESE ADIZ is FOUR times larger than the entire landmass of Japan.

Biden needs to tell Japan to reduce their JAPANESE ADIZ by 95%!

BingJou
BingJou

Not a fairly comparison.  Mark Thompson should have compared Japan's ADIZ policy and practice with China's policy.  Japan's ADIZ was created and imposed unilaterally by US military.  Japan took over the management of ADIZ in 1969, and expanded ADIZ in 1970 and 2010, again, unilaterally. Taiwan strongly protested again Japan's 2010 expansion to no avail.  Neither the US, nor Japan nor South Korea consulted with China before imposing ADIZ.  Mark Thompson prevaricates significantly about the actual practice of Japan's ADIZ. 

The response of US and Japan to China's new ADIZ is a show.  It fans up the anti-Chinese sentiment and offers no solution on ADIZ issues.  The US has never stated a proposal on how to impose ADIZ.  Biden's complaint will surely fall to the dead ear of China, but that's not what Biden wants to do in China.  Biden will focus on extracting economic concessions from Chinese.

The problem is with American journalists.  Why don't they look into it more critically?  BBC is more impartial.  It explains why David Cameron didn't bother to mention ADIZ while he was in China.

michaellaguardia
michaellaguardia

Where did this air-defense zoning thing even come from and why has it escalated so much? You can enter an airspace as long as you ask that country for its permission. In this case, Japan didn't "politely ask" but rather used force, electronic interference and so forth to harass Taiwan's civilian flights. WHy was there no mention of this illegal act by China, yet they get mad a CHina for setting one up. A little hypocritical don't you think? 




thingsinasia
thingsinasia

Oh and I neglected to mention, during those incidents of interfering with commercial flights, Japan scramble jets at least times to force the Taiwan airliners to change course.  Talk about endangering the passengers' lives and a totally illegal act.  Actually China already responded to Japan's "demand (as if it would work;  sounds like weak kneed blustering by the Japan PM)" to retract its ADIZ - since Japan set up it first, 44 years ago, once Japan retracts its ADIZ, China will definitely consider it, 44 years later.  Can't say those Chinese don't have a sense of humor.

thingsinasia
thingsinasia

Time, Time Time, and this Thompson dude.  The headline is sooo misleading.  As Don_Bacon here said  here - who started all these ADIZ thing?  In the West Pacific, Japan started its own in 1969 so why didn't Thompson say anything about that?  "China's unilateral imposition of its ADIZ ...."   Unilateral?  Did Japan consult China, S. Korea, Taiwan, etc. when it set up its own ADIZ in 1969?  Also, ADIZ is not a claim over sovereign territory?  It is still international air space.  Anyone is free to enter this zone - just that the country politely ask you to inform them when you are entering the zone?  Except in the case of Japan, it didn't "politely ask" but use force, electronic interference, etc. to harass Taiwan's civilian flights, 36 times since 2009?  So why no mention of such illegal act by Japan but harping on China for setting one up, 44 years after Japan set its own, and butt it 170 km to the legal space of China?  Such an even handed, fair and just China bashing article again.  Good work Time. 

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Who started all this air-defense zoning, anyway?
Japan started it, with US help.

There have been historical disagreements concerning the Senkaku/Diayou islands which escalated in September 2012 when Japan -- "unilaterally and so immediately without any consultation" -- purchased three of the islands from its private owner and took administrative control of them.

Japan's Prime Minister Abe is a trouble-maker, who counts on the US an accomplice and hasn't been disappointed.

What historical disagreement?
In 1951 a conference issued the Treaty of San Francisco  to mark the final settlement of the war in East Asia and the official end of the Allied (American) Occupation of Japan. The US excluded China from the conference. The treaty allocated to Japan hundreds of islands south of Japan, comprising the whole of Okinawa prefecture, including the Senkaku.

China denounced the treaty, as did Russia, because China had been excluded from the conference.

So now we have the US siding with Japan, a country not generally liked in Asia and hated by the Chinese for its extensive wartime atrocities.

BrianLinzmeier
BrianLinzmeier

"The U.S. is an island nation"  

Are you sure about that?

Al_Murphy
Al_Murphy

@PeaceOnEarth It's the timing of the ADIZ declaration in such a contentious region.  Can you please ask the Chinese Communist why they didn't declare it many years ago like other countries??

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Of course (:- China is a communist country and Communist is bad.

Can you locate China on a map?

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Americans are short-sighted and have short memory. They have long forgot the Pearl Harbor attack. However, Japanese will never forget the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Until next Pearl Harbor attack, Americans will enjoy bashing China whenever they see a slight opportunity since China is perceived as an immediate danger and is eating their lunches :-

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Once China, Russia and other countries have the capability to fly bombers along the US borders, I bet America will change its hypocritical behavior. 

AntiEgnorant
AntiEgnorant

How stupid you chinese people think. No body wants to buy chinese goods, even chinese people. All you ungrateful chinese would have been speaking Japanese if it wasn't for the U.S. defeating the Japanese in the Pacific. The chinese navy is no match for the Japanese navy. So dream on. The chinese navy is nothing but a paper tiger. Everything you people have now is from copying other people. That is not characteristic of a powerful nation. If the U.S. stopped importing goods from China, it economy would crash within one or 2 years. So why don't you get your facts straight next time

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

To prove his point, the author contradicts himself a lot in this article. A typical Republican. 

DavidBuhr
DavidBuhr

@Don_Bacon  Good point. Remember too, that China was an ally, and Japan was the enemy. Strange?

arvay
arvay

@BingJou 

Thank you for the perspective. Very little has been written about this, much less its background, so this is very helpful.

ChinaLee
ChinaLee

@michaellaguardia Just to clarify, you meant to say: "Why was there no mention of this illegal act by JAPAN?" in using its military jet fighters to harass Taiwanese civilian planes that had already provided their flight plans to Japan.

rotorhead1871
rotorhead1871

@Don_Bacon 

well maybe the chinese should pay for them, like the japanese did.   how much did they cost.....??  it didnt PO the chinese when the islands were privately owned.....so maybe the chinese need to BUY THEM  from the japanese...

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Maybe the author counts Canada and Mexico as part of the US :- 

The US can also redefine what an island is.

mux
mux

@BrianLinzmeier - Indeed, even when combining Canada's ADIZ zones under NORAD, there is still Mexico to the south that is not part of it, last time I checked, islands are completely surrounded by water lol.

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Are you saying there is a deadline for this? Who set up the deadline?

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Are you sure you are not barking on the wrong tree? Can you learn to behave like a civilized person to have a civilized discussion?

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@rotorhead1871 @Don_BaconI just checked Craig's List and the islands are not for sale. It really doesn't matter because who holds the deed doesn't determine nationality.   It's Japan's CONTROL of the islands that is key.

Al_Murphy
Al_Murphy

@PeaceOnEarth I think there is another thing PeaceOn Earth.  The Chinese Communist Party is finding it so hopeless to fight corruption within it's own Party so nationlism serves as a diversion.

Al_Murphy
Al_Murphy

@PeaceOnEarth Hi, you stated that many countries did the same long before China so why is it all of a sudden so important now!  The answer is to add the "fuel to the fire" of  NATIONALISM...keeping it going.  Oh yes there's Japan and Diaolyu!

PeaceOnEarth
PeaceOnEarth

Are you saying that the Law of the Jungle should be used? It seems to me that it will ultimately be the case here (:-