Heightened Tensions Over China’s Air Defence Zone
By John Chan
November 26, 2013
In a further sign of the dangers being fuelled by the Obama administration’s provocative pivot to Asia, China on Saturday declared an “air defence identification zone” (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. The new zone overlaps a similar Japanese ADIZ and includes one of the region’s flashpoints—the Senkaku islands (known as Diaoyu in China), which are claimed by both countries.
The US and Japan said they would ignore China’s ADIZ, setting the stage for risky encounters between military aircraft that could lead to a clash, either through miscalculation or a refusal by US and Japanese warplanes to obey Chinese orders. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel declared that the Chinese announcement “will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” He also reiterated the Obama administration’s official stance that the US would automatically support Japan in the event of a war with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.
Most international media outlets blame “an aggressive China” for seeking to “change the status quo” and threaten regional stability. In reality, China is responding to a series of provocations created by Washington’s encouragement of Japan to re-militarise and assert its territorial ambitions.
Ever since 2010, when the Japanese Coast Guard arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain in the waters off the disputed islands, provoking a major diplomatic row, the Obama administration has backed Tokyo in this longstanding maritime dispute. The turning point came in September 2012, when Japan’s former Democrat government unilaterally “nationalised” the Senkakus, leading to an ongoing standoff with China. In response, Beijing took a hard-line stance, sending maritime surveillance ships, planes and drones to the area to challenge Japanese control.
Tensions dramatically escalated after the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power last December. Abe stood on a platform of Japanese remilitarisation, vowing to create a “strong nation” with a “strong military.” Since taking office, the Abe government has boosted defence spending and integrated Japan into the US military build-up against China.
These preparations were on display in October during foreign and defence ministerial meetings between the US and Japan in Tokyo. Amid concerns among Asian governments about the US commitment to the “pivot,” Washington used the joint statement produced at the meeting to unveil an extensive US military build-up in Japan, including the deployment of long-range Global Hawke surveillance drones and F-35B vertical take-off stealth fighters, as well as augmented anti-ballistic missile systems.