Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cleverly exploited the China's unilateral announcement of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in order to assert Japanese impunity in military flights equal to that of the United States, a key element of Japan's ambitions to act as the local hegemon in oceanic East Asia.
That's something that won't please China, of course; but it may also displease the United States as another demonstration of Japan's aspirations to status as an independent peer - and not a tractable ally - in the US "pivot to Asia".
But Prime Minister Abe, either as part of his strategy to muddy the waters or in an ill-advised spasm of nationalist elan, seriously
overreached with his unprecedented call to Japanese civilian carriers to defy the PRC requirement to file flight plans before entering the ADIZ.
On the civilian flight issue, the Abe administration has crawled off on a long, skinny branch and invited the US and the PRC to saw it off for him.
Anybody who has any doubt about the radical character of Japan's claims to impunity inside the PRC's self-declared ADIZ - and the threat it poses both to regional stability and US prerogatives in Asia - would be well advised to review this detailed Powerpoint presentation prepared by the US Federal Aviation Administration for the benefit of civilian pilots entering the US ADIZ.
The FAA makes it clear that the US/Canadian ADIZ ("a national defense boundary for aerial incursions") is supposed to be observed by everybody.
Any aircraft that wishes to fly in or through the boundary must file either a Defense Visual Flight Rules (DVFR) flight plan or an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan before crossing the ADIZ (14 CFR 99.11).
Heads up: remember that reference to wishing to fly "in or through" the boundary. It will come up later.
While approaching and crossing the North American ADIZ, aircraft must have an operational radar transponder and maintain two-way radio contact.
(see 14 CFR 99.9 & 99.13)
Also you need an altitude transponder that can be interrogated remotely. Also you need to obtain a transponder code 15 minutes before you enter the ADIZ.
Let's say you penetrate the ADIZ but you don't want to comply with the regulations. Canadian or US air traffic control thinks you may be up to no good. Over the Caribbean, they'll think you're smuggling drugs. If you're flying toward Washington, well, maybe you're a terrorist.
What happens? First ATC contacts you on your radio - which you are required to have switched on. If you hear somebody on your radio talking about "Unknown Rider" and you think it's you, better answer. Otherwise:
Any aircraft flying in these zones without authorization may be identified as a threat and treated as an enemy aircraft, potentially leading to interception by fighter aircraft. [Emphasis in original]
A scramble is helpfully identified as "a costly and dangerous mission". The presentation then goes into an interesting discussion of the ways to comply with the signals from an intercepting jet fighter, land at a nearby airfield if necessary, handle the rather nerve-wracking "you have told me to land at this airport but I can't, so sorry" scenario, and in general keep from getting shot down.
Once the absolute character of an ADIZ for a state concerned about its airspace security is made clear, hopefully the recklessness of Prime Minister Abe's declaration that Japanese civilian airliners should ignore the PRC ADIZ should be evident.
The PRC, as we know, unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that covered the Senkakus, whose possession by Japan is disputed by China. PM Abe vowed to ignore it, and the Japanese government obtained the agreement of Japanese civil carriers that they would ignore it too (even though they had previously filed flight plans with the PRC in conformance with the new ADIZ requirements).
ADIZs are for air defense early warning and do not involve sovereignty claims. An ADIZ can be declared over international waters. Technically speaking, the matter of overflights of the Senkaku Islands and their 12-nautical mile limit is a matter of sovereignty, not ADIZ. By extending its ADIZ beyond the Senkakus, the PRC is not necessarily limiting the Japanese right to fly toward the Senkakus; but it could subject Japan to the inconvenience of having to interact with Chinese air defense on its way to the (airport-free) islands.
The United States has been willing to help Japan out - at the cost of consistency and logic - to make sure Japan is not subjected to flight-plan requirements for its warplanes in the East China Sea.
I assume that US sympathy for the affront to Japanese sensibilities at being called on to file flight plans when they fly to "their" Senkakus is behind the rather tortured prose deployed by the United States about ADIZs and shouldn't count if foreign aircraft are flying "parallel" to the airspace of an ADIZ-declaring power, as opposed to heading toward the homeland.
There was a certain amount of triumphant hooting and claims that the "parallel flight" exception had been vindicated when Taylor Fravel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posted some guidelines from a US Navy handbook that were construed as stating that foreign ADIZs could be ignored as long as flying into foreign airspace wasn't an issue.
However, most people apparently didn't read the actual regulations, which state that the US military policy has nothing to do with direction of flight and everything to do with US impunity. The US Air Force, at its own discretion, does not deign to interact with a foreign ADIZ if it does not have the "intention" of penetrating the foreign airspace.
In other words, in the course of zigging and zagging, a US military aircraft might have a heading that, if maintained, would lead to penetration of national airspace. But if the pilot doesn't "intend" to penetrate foreign airspace, it doesn't matter if the heading is parallel to, or directly toward, the foreign national airspace.
The US position apparently has everything to do with the traditional US claims that its military aircraft have an exceptional right to fly anywhere and in any direction in somebody's ADIZ (which the US pointedly asserted by flying two B-52s from Guam into the PRC ADIZ as soon as it was announced) and not too much to do with the whole "parallel" issue.
That's definitely not saying that the sauce for the US goose suits the global gander, or that international rules of the road allow everybody to fly parallel to coastline in somebody's ADIZ.
As noted above, for civil aircraft in the airspace around the United States and Canada, the FAA doesn't accept the "I just happened to be flying parallel to your coastline inside your ADIZ" argument either. From the Powerpoint cited above:
Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, no person may operate an aircraft into, within, or across an ADIZ unless that person has filed a flight plan with an appropriate aeronautical facility. (14 CFR 99.11(a))
And we can safely say that, if it doesn't apply to civilian aircraft, the US is not going to extend the courtesy of parallel flight to unidentified foreign military aircraft that enter its "national defense boundary for aerial incursions" and then decide to fly off to the side for a while.
If the canard of "Japan has a right to ignore the ADIZ because its planes are not on a heading to enter Chinese national airspace" is stripped out, what's left is that Abe is demanding an unprecedented escalation of Japanese flight privileges, beyond those that even the United States enjoys.
That's because Japan is claiming the same ADIZ-ignoring prerogatives as the United States military, not just for Japanese military aircraft, but also for Japanese civilian aircraft.
That is a big deal.
The United States may not be terribly pleased that Abe is exploiting the ADIZ rumpus to demand equal impunity for its military aircraft as the US military has traditionally enjoyed. After all, the US military claims the right to fly everywhere and sail everywhere (subject only to closely parsed limits to operations in foreign territorial waters and airspace, ie inside the 12-nautical-mile limit; by the way, it is worth recalling that warships can even enter another nation's limit as long as the purpose is "innocent transit"?  because it is the guarantor of global security, freedom of navigation, etc. This is not a function it is particularly interested in outsourcing to Japan.
Virtual impunity in military movements is not a reciprocal or universal privilege, ie just because the only hyperpower does it as an expression of its role as the world's only indispensable nation doesn't mean that everybody else - that is, Japan - can do it. If the Barack Obama administration has any hopes of leading, instead of reacting to, regional security initiatives in East Asia, it had better hope that its "pivot" is not defined as "carte blanche for Japanese warplanes".
As for civilian carriers defying an ADIZ, on November 27, the US State Department told US airlines not to do anything stupid:
The US government generally expects that US carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries. Our expectation of operations by US carriers consistent with NOTAMs does not indicate US government acceptance of China's requirements for operating in the newly declared ADIZ. 
Also, it looks like the rest of the world's airlines have decided to notify the PRC when entering the ADIZ.
That's not a terribly happy place for the Japanese government, which publicly called on the country's civilian carriers, ANA and Japan Airlines, to reverse their previous compliance and enter the Chinese ADIZ without announcing flight plans.
For the edification of readers who find it difficult to grasp the brazen mendacity employed by Japanese government officials in advancing the Abe administration's China stratagems, I offer this spectacle of determined prevarication, which Reuters does not see fit to parse:
However, [Prime Minister Abe] also insisted that the United States had not advised its airlines to comply with Chinese demands for prior notice before their planes enter the new air defense zone.
"We have confirmed through diplomatic channels that the US government didn't request commercial carriers to submit flight plans," he was quoted as saying in the Kyodo report.
And Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera insisted the allies were working in lockstep.
"I believe the US government is taking the same stance as the Japanese government," he said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK, as reported by Reuters. 
With Joe Biden now in Tokyo, I expect one item of his agenda is to ask Prime Minister Abe if he has a Plan B for what happens if the PRC decides to divert a Beijing-bound ANA jet liner to Tianjin and the China passenger business for Japanese carriers evaporates overnight.
But the Obama administration will also have to address a much more serious question: does the US vision for the "pivot to Asia" involve allowing Japan the same absolute impunity in military flights in East Asia that the United States asserts as its birthright around the world?