SPEAKING FREELY ADIZ proves hard to fathom
By Stefan Soesanto
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The creation of China's first Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on November 23 has opened up more questions than answers on the Middle Kingdom's future regional ambitions. While analysts were quick to connect the ADIZ to China's territorial claims in the East China Sea, the size, timing, and extent of enforcement does not seem to line up with Beijing's overall foreign policy interests.
The size of China's ADIZ reveals two particular policy notions. First, the ADIZ is mirroring Beijing's territorial ambitions by including the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islets and the
Ieodo/Suyan rock. Second, except for the contest areas and a large chunk in the middle of nowhere, the Chinese ADIZ is accommodating, to a very large degree, the pre-existing Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese zones.
The problem, however, starts with the status of Taiwan, which although excluded from the Chinese ADIZ, symbolizes Beijing's desire for national unification and territorial integrity. If Beijing excluded Taiwan on the assumption that the island is already an integral part of the People's Republic, then why would the Middle Kingdom need an ADIZ to cement its other territorial claims in the region?
The second problem is the inclusion of the submerged Ieodo/Suyan rock, which lies at the heart of the maritime dispute between the exclusive economic zones of South Korea and China. Although this territorial conflict has been surfacing throughout the years, it has never reached the level of a political row or even diplomatic dispute.
Adding to the confusion, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang stated on November 25 that there is "no territorial dispute" between Seoul and Beijing over Ieodo. Thus, if there is no territorial dispute then why was Ieodo deliberately included into the Chinese ADIZ?
To put it simply, China's air defense identification zone is incoherent to say the least. The zone is too small and too big to be solely based on Beijing's territorial claims in the East China Sea.
Beijing's timing also seems off. In Seoul, President Park Geun-hye is currently promoting her "Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperative Initiative" to facilitate trust building on a regional level. In Taipei, President Ma Ying-jeou outlined a plan last month to further improve ties with the mainland by pursuing a new trade pact. And in Washington, officials were quite optimistic about the trajectory of US-China relations after the outcome of the Obama-Xi summit and the announcement of Beijing's reform agenda at the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee.
Only in Tokyo, were relations with China already bound to hit rock bottom due to the persisting tensions surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets. As a result, Beijing could have not chosen a worse moment to move on an issue that would send its relations and trust building process with Seoul, Taipei, and Washington on a nosedive.
The extent of enforcement within the Chinese zone adds to the current confusion. While commercial airlines were compelled to abide by China's ADIZ rules to avoid any market share loss, military brass and diplomats in Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, and even Canberra quickly asserted, that they will not submit to Beijing's coercive and unilateral action to change the status quo in the East China Sea.
On November 25, the US Air force subsequently challenged the PLA's resolve by flying two unarmed B-52 bombers over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in a freedom of navigation mission. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have since followed suit by sending their own jet fighters into the Chinese zone without notifying the middle kingdom.
So far there has not been a physical reaction to the intrusions which might indicate that Beijing's attitude is much more flexible than its ADIZ rules would suggest. If the Chinese Air Force stays on the current trajectory of non-enforcement, Beijing will surely end up with an ADIZ on paper that will have little effect in protecting the Chinese homeland.
To summarize: First, the Chinese ADIZ has little to do with its territorial claims. Second, Beijing's move runs counter to its regional trust building process. And third, the zone will probably not contribute to the protection of the Chinese homeland. In essence, the ADIZ is missing a foreign policy rational that would justify the negative impact it is currently creating.
If the ADIZ was merely intended to up the ante in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets dispute then it has miserably backfired. And if it was meant to contribute to stability and peace in the region as claimed by China's Foreign Ministry, it has created quite the opposite effect.
However, several questions remain yet unanswered to fully understand Beijing's irrational behavior. Why did China choose to deliberately offend its maritime neighbors and cause a predictable military confrontation with Washington when there are no visible foreign policy gains for the middle kingdom?
Was this a miscalculated amateurish move by China's Defense and Foreign Ministry or was the Chinese ADIZ conceptualized for domestic consumption by riding on the wave of nationalism? Either way, it looks very bad for Beijing's mantra to foster regional stability, peace and cooperation when all the world sees right now is crisis, conflict and unilateralism.
In a sense Beijing single-handedly created its worst geopolitical nightmare by strengthening the US alliances in the Asia-Pacific while in return being marked as the bully in the East China Sea. If China ever feared to be encircled by the United States, this would be the moment where it all became real.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Stefan Soesanto is non-resident James A Kelly Fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS.