The last time China set up an air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, was in late 2013, when tensions with Japan had escalated so far, many were speculating if the two nations would not engage in limited warfare. Back then, China set up its first ADIZ in the East China Sea in November 2013 to cover the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus. Both countries claim the uninhabited outcrops but Tokyo controls them. The ADIZ triggered a backlash from Japan, South Korea and the US.
While the confrontation between Japan and China subsided, it was promptly replaced by another geopolitical tension, this time a few thousand kilometers to the Southwest, in the South China Sea, where tensions between China and neighbours Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have risen since Beijing embarked on major land reclamation work on disputed islands and reefs in the area. In recent months, the US has also gotten involved by sailing ships through contested wates, much to China's anger; most recently a US spy plane was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets over the area.
Which is probably why, as the SCMP reported yesterday, China is preparing another air defence identification zone, this time in the South China Sea, two years after it announced a similar one in the East China Sea. According to the SCMP, one source said the timing of any declaration would depend on security conditions in the region, particularly the United States’ military presence and diplomatic ties with neighbouring countries.
However, should the US continue engaging in what Beijing views as provocations, China will have no choice but to escalate: “If the US military keeps making provocative moves to challenge China’s sovereignty in the region, it will give Beijing a good opportunity to declare an ADIZ in the South China Sea,” the source said.
The revelation came ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a security forum attended by defense officials from various nations, including Admiral Sun Jianguo and US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter. Disputes in the South China Sea are expected to head the agenda of the three-day event, which starts on Friday. Top Chinese and US officials will also meet next week for their annual strategic and economic dialogue in Beijing.
As the SCMP adds, in a written response to the South China Morning Post on the zone, the defense ministry said it was “the right of a sovereign state” to designate an ADIZ.
“Regarding when to declare such a zone, it will depend on whether China is facing security threats from the air, and what the level of the air safety threat is,” the statement said. What the statement was envisioning was more incidents such as this one profiled two weeks ago when as we reported "Chinese Fighter Jets Fly Within 50 Feet Of US Spy Plane Near China."
A report in Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review said Beijing had defined the area of the ADIZ in the South China Sea, and the timing of the announcement would be a political decision. The report said the new ADIZ would be based on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Woody Island and China’s seven new artificial islands in Spratly chain, or 200 nautical miles stretches from the islands’ baseline. In other words, in addition to a naval zone, China will claim that the airspace above it belongs to China as well; and should any aircraft - namely belonging to the US - fly above it, China would have a right to take measures.
“China’s new ADIZ will overlap with the EEZs of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, which are also planning their own ADIZs – with US backing – if China announced it,” Kanwa editor-in-chief Andrei Chang said.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military commentator, said the seven artificial islands in the Spratly chain had laid the foundations for China to establish its ADIZ in the South China Sea. But Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said there were signs that regional tension would ease after Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines.
And as a reminder, Duterte, who as we noted yesterday endorses the murder of "corrupt journalists" will likely be heavily supported by the US.
President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Duterte on Monday, saying China hoped “the two sides can work together to bring bilateral relations back on a healthy track." They won't.