Friday, November 29, 2013

China’s dangerous gamble

How comfortable we are with this new situation depends on whether we can trust Chinese leaders, air controllers, radar systems, and relatively inexperienced combat pilots to make the right decision 100% of the time

The announcement by China on November 23 that it had established and would enforce an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is the latest in a series of worrying developments under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and one that unnecessarily increases the risks of miscalculation and war.

Under international law, countries are fully entitled to create ADIZs (not to be confused with “no-fly zones”) near their territories. In fact, several countries, including Canada, have one. However, the zone set up by China last week is somewhat problematic, as it overlaps with ADIZs already established by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. More controversially, it includes the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai islets in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing, and Taipei, and which have been the source of dangerous tensions between Japan and China.

Consequently, rather than serving the legitimate purpose of helping China protect itself against potentially hostile intrusions into its airspace, Saturday’s move has every appearance of a gambit meant to consolidate China’s sovereignty claims over the contested islands (admittedly, Japan’s own extension of its ADIZ in 2010 served a similar aim).

Given the context and the timing of the decisions, it is difficult to regard the move as other than escalatory. Beijing’s critics didn’t wait long to express their alarm. Hours after the announcement, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called the move “a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region and “unilateral action [that] increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called it a “dangerous act,” while on November 26 Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey Canberra’s concerns. Taipei has also expressed worries, saying the move undermined President Ma Ying-jeou’s “East China Sea Peace initiative.”

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute Blog at the University of Nottingham, continues here.

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