Author : Pratnashree Basu

Originally Published 2013-12-06 10:49:36 Published on Dec 06, 2013
For the U.S, the time may have come to position its stand on Chinese assertions in a manner that would help maintain stability in the long run. If Beijing's move with its air Defence zone is part of a piecemeal plan of consolidating its territorial claims, then a less indirect approach is called for.
China's ADIZ: Time for US to take a more direct approach?
"For over a year, the East China Sea has been witness to waters that are more turbulent than its own. And from what it looks like, the political repartee between Japan and China (and U.S) is not going to end anytime soon. In the thick of an already contentious situation, China's ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) has further soured the climate. In itself, many countries already have their own ADIZs in place, but Beijing's insistence on being alerted of any flight, even if it is non-military, that flies into the zone is what has chiefly triggered international concern and a U.S 'response' in the form of flying B-52 bombers in the newly categorized airspace.

Nevertheless, the U.S has issued a fresh directive on 29 November, which instructs its civilian aircraft to comply with the new rules of the ADIZ. According to the official U.S rationale, it doesn't "want this to be the first in what would be a series of assertive moves." While such a move may be deemed prudent generally, in the long run it could prove to be a miscalculation. In an article published in The Diplomat on November 30, Zachary Keck makes an interesting point, saying that China's recent moves of linking international legal aspects of territorial claims with its efforts at exerting sovereignty. The ADIZ is the best example of this practice. The U.S directive could have been read as a measured tactic in a different circumstance, but it is difficult to do so in this context because of the increasingly vigorous Chinese attitude towards its securing what are disputed territorial claims.

The objectives of China are steady and long term. First, the frequent presence of ships in disputed waters of both East and South China Sea serve to consolidate the disputed status of these areas along with creating exasperation among neighbours. Coupled with legal evidence, no matter how weak, the perception that China's assertions may indeed hold water is reified. Second, the constant engagement with neighbours over territorial claims helps to build and rally domestic public opinion. Third, the East China Sea, like the South China Sea, is more important for its potential natural resources, especially oil and gas (the Chunxiao gas field being nearby) besides serving as an international trade route. Therefore, China's assertion in both these waters has a lot to do with meeting rising consumption demands of an increasing middle class.

By sending first B-52 bombers over East China Sea airspace and now submarine-hunting jets to its Okinawa post, and instructing civilian aircraft to comply with the rules of notifying Beijing, the U.S has tried to send a mixed signal of neither entirely reproving the Chinese ADIZ rules nor accepting it. The US has thus tried to keep to its customary position of being neutral to the dispute between Japan and China while at the same time not bowing down to showing the will to face a challenge, should one arise. While this position may be a balanced one, the method (in this case of asking civilian aircraft to adhere to ADIZ rule of notifying Beijing) is not a good one to choose. This is simply because, as mentioned earlier, these ADIZ rules are unlike the ADIZ rules of other countries because civilian aircraft also come under its purview. This indicates that Beijing wants its newly demarcated zone, which is crossing disputed waters, to be treated as Chinese territory. In other words, this is a step which runs contrary to any Chinese assurance of settling the dispute bilaterally, because it has refused to respect or acknowledge the water space as being ambiguous.

For the U.S, the time may have come to position its stand on Chinese assertions in a manner that would help maintain stability in the long run. If Beijing's move with its air Defence zone is part of a piecemeal plan of consolidating its territorial claims and chipping away at international resolve to discourage Beijing's efforts, then a less indirect approach is called for. Some hold that China's policy of having legality back up its claims is indicative of its position of not upsetting the global order or the uncertainty of being able to do so in the near future. On the other hand, the same policy is being deployed to gradually reinforce its own territorial claims and objectives, given that China's capability to do so is mounting.

A measured response may not serve its purpose if the situation demands otherwise. It may not be judicious to create a war like situation. But it may also be time to reflect on how much discretion is necessary.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata Chapter)

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Pratnashree Basu

Pratnashree Basu

Pratnashree Basu is an Associate Fellow, Indo-Pacific at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, with the Strategic Studies Programme and the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy. She ...

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