Tag Archives: East China Sea air defense identification zone

China builds military base on offshore island to reclaim contested Senkakus

At the end of the Ryukyu archipelago in the East China Sea is a cluster of small islands called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyutai by the Chinese, the ownership of which is contested by Beijing and Tokyo. The waters surrounding the islets are believed to contain sub-soil oil and natural gas deposits.

On November 24, 2013, China made a bold move toward its claim by declaring an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that includes the air space over the contested islands.

At first, the United States appeared to challenge China’s ADIZ by flying B-52 bombers over the area. Two days later, China demonstrated its resolve by sending warplanes into the ADIZ. The Obama administration then backed off, told U.S. commercial airlines to abide by China’s rules in the ADIZ, then seemed to signal that the U.S. would accept China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea although the U.S. official position is that it does not recognize the Chinese air defense zone as it covers large areas of international airspace and waters.

Now China has made another move to reclaim the islands.

China vs. Japan ADIZs

Bill Gertz reports for The Washington Free Beacon, Jan. 27, 2015, that recent satellite photos of an island off the coast of China confirm Beijing’s buildup of military forces within attack range of the Senkaku islands.

In October 2014, construction of a helicopter base on Nanji Island was observed by a commercial spy satellite. The island is off the coast of China’s Zhejiang province—some 186 miles northwest of the Senkakus. The imagery, obtained from the Airbus Defense and Space-owned Pleaides satellite, reveals China is constructing an airfield with 10 landing pads for helicopters on Nanji Island.

Click images below to enlarge

Nanji1Nanji2Military analysts say the new military base on Nanji Island appears to be preparation by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for an attack or seizure of the Senkakus. Rick Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said:

“China’s new heli-base on Nanji Island demonstrates that the PLA is preparing for an offensive military operation against the Senkaku/Daiyoutai Islands. If you want to rate the level of tension, this is the PLA reaching for its holster. When forces start deploying to Nanji Island, that means the hammer is cocked.

The military buildup on Nanji was first disclosed by Japan’s Kyodo News Service last month. Kyodo, quoting Chinese sources, said a landing strip was being built. However, the satellite photos, reported last week by IHS trade publication Jane’s Defence Weekly, did not indicate construction of an airstrip, only helicopter landing pads. The helicopter base construction is new because photos taken earlier than October 2013 do not show any visible construction. In addition to the helicopter pads, wind turbines on a ridge on the southeast part of Nanji also are visible additions to the island. Radar and communications equipment also is visible. The helicopter pads are an indication that China plans to use the base for transporting troops and forces by helicopter and not for longer-range air transports or fighter jets.

China has been engaged in a tense confrontation with Japan over the Senkakus since 2012, when Tokyo, in a bid to clarify the status of the uninhabited islands, purchased three of the islands from private owners in a bid to prevent Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from buying them. Since then, Chinese ships and warplanes, as well as unmanned surveillance drones, have been flying close to the islands, prompting numerous Japanese maritime and aerial intercepts.

Yang Yujun

Yang Yujun

China’s Defense Ministry did not dispute the military buildup on Nanji.

On Dec. 25, 2014, at the same time as he called Japanese news reports of the construction on Nanji “irresponsible,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman PLA Sr. Col. Yang Yujun told reporters in Beijing that “There is no doubt that China has the right to conduct activities and construction on its own territory. Some media in Japan make irresponsible speculations on China’s legitimate activities and construction and play up tensions in the region. It is pure media hype.”

Questions were raised during the discussion with Yang as to whether the buildup is part of China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that covers the Senkakus.

Retired PLA Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser at China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a Beijing-based research group, told Singapore’s Today newspaper on Dec. 23, that the Nanji military construction was “normal” and that “China has military bases in several strategically important coastal islands and the Nanji is one of them. The Japanese media is only singling out the Nanji and making a big fuss, [and] this can be misleading.”

Jane’s said the Nanji construction appears to be part of a “quiet military buildup around the Senkaku/Daioyu islands by both sides. For its part, Japan is putting aside funds to buy land for a coastal surveillance radar unit on Yonaguni island, which is the westernmost of its islands and only 150 kilometers from the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while it is also training up and kitting out a small marine corps-style force that will be based in Nagasaki.”

The lack of an airfield is a “gap” in Chinese plans for military operations against the Senkakus, Jane’s said. The closest PLA air base to the Senkakus currently is located at Luqiao, some 236 miles from the Senkakus, where J-10 fighters are based.

Fisher, however, said Nanji could be used by the PLA to base its large Zubr air-cushioned hovercraft that are capable of moving troops and tanks in a takeover of the Senkakus or an assault against Taiwan.

A Japanese Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the Chinese military construction: “We are in the process of gathering information on this, and thus not able to comment.” A Pentagon spokesman did not respond to an email request for comment.

Note: The United States has a mutual defense treaty with Japan, and a Congressional act with the Republic of China on Taiwan called the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), wherein the U.S. states it is committed to the maintenance of peace and security in the Western Pacific (which includes the Taiwan Strait).

See also:

~StMA

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U.S. Navy intelligence chief: China training for a quick war against Japan

The United States Naval Institute (USNI) reports, Feb. 18, 2014, that the chief of intelligence of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLEET) says China’s People’s Liberation Army is training for an attack on Japanese holdings in the East China Sea.

Chinese marines assault a beach during the Mission Action 2013 exercise. Xinhua Photo

Chinese marines assault a beach during the Mission Action 2013 exercise. Xinhua Photo

At the West 2014 conference on Feb. 13 in San Diego, California, Capt. James Fannell, deputy chief of staff intelligence and information operations for PACFLEET, said the PLA is training to take the Senkaku Islands, as part of China’s Mission Action 2013 exercise — a massive exercise between all branches of the PLA:

“We witnessed the massive amphibious and cross military region enterprise — Mission Action 2013. [We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [islands] — as some of their academics say.”

In the last year, China has increased its provocative military actions in the South China Sea around the so-called Nine Dash Line — China’s expansive claim into the region in conflict with several other international claims.

PLAN training planPLA Navy’s training plan

“As a senior U.S. government official recently stated, there is growing concern that China’s pattern of behavior in the South China Sea reflects an incremental effort by China to assert control of the area contained in the so-called 9-dash line despite the objections of its neighbors, and despite the lack of any explanation or apparent basis under international law.” Fannell said.

He then detailed a series of what he called aggressive actions taken by China against its neighbors over the past year. Some of those actions, including combat drills in the south Philippine Sea were described as China’s “protection of maritime rights.”

Fannell explained that “protection of maritime rights is a Chinese euphemism for coercive seizure of coastal rights of China’s neighbors.” “The next week (the week after the combat drill in the south Philippine Sea) in the East China Sea, Japan said that a Chinese warship locked its fire-controlled radar onto a Japanese warship. China denied it for a month, but then admitted that it occurred, but said that it was not in danger since the range between the two ships was too close for a weapons system,” he said. “Seriously, you just can’t make this stuff up.”

Fannell also called out quasi-military actions by the newly created Chinese Coast Guard which unified five mostly civil maritime services.

Chinese Coast Guard vessel

Chinese Coast Guard vessel

Tensions in the South and East China Seas have deteriorated with the Chinese Coast Guard playing the role of antagonist, harassing China’s neighbors while PLA Navy ships, their protectors, (make) port calls throughout the region promising friendship and cooperation.”

Fannell points out China has allocated $1.6 million on improvements to disputed South China Sea outposts, developing ports, air fields, water purification and surveillance systems. “Meanwhile, China describes efforts by other nations to improve the navigability of their outposts as egregious provocations and responded with threats.”

But Fannell’s assessment of China’s provocation is in contrast to the Obama administration’s efforts to forge closer military-to-military ties with the PLA.

As an example, on the same panel at the West 2014 conference, the U.S. Navy’s head of operations, plans and strategy, Rear Adm. James Foggo described a successful meeting between U.S. Navy officials and the head of the PLA Navy (PLAN), Adm. Wu Shengli. The U.S. delegation toured PLAN ships and submarines. Shortly after, the Chinese declared the controversial Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large swath over the East China Sea in November.

The Obama administraton is also continuing to work out plans for the Chinese navy to participate in the Rim of the Pacific 2014 (RIMPAC) exercise later this year.

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~StMA

China threatens Japan with military action, while Obama admin. sends mixed signals

China-Japan ADIZs

Bill Gertz writes for The Free Beacon, Dec. 3, 2013:

China’s military ratcheted up tensions on Tuesday over its disputed East China Sea air defense zone by threatening military action against Japan and saying it would enforce new aircraft controls.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yangsheng accused Japan in a statement of “making trouble” and he warned Chinese military aircraft would enforce the newly imposed air defense identification zone, or ADIZ.

“Japan’s actions have seriously harmed China’s legitimate rights and security interests, and undermined the peace and stability in East Asia,” Geng said through the official Xinhua news agency. “China has to take necessary reactions.”

Geng listed a series of actions by Japan he said had increased tensions, including Tokyo’s frequent dispatch of ships and aircraft to areas near the disputed Senkaku islands, threats to shoot down Chinese drones, and overall escalation of regional tensions.

Without mentioning the United States, Geng also said other countries must “correct wrong remarks and wrongdoings,” he said. “Other parties should not be incited, or send wrong signals to make a very few countries go further on the wrong track, which will follow the same old disastrous road and undermine regional and world peace,” Geng said, insisting that China adheres to peaceful development and defensive policies.

The comments were the most forceful by a Chinese government spokesman since Beijing unilaterally declared the ADIZ that overlaps Japan’s air defense zone and covers the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu.

On Capitol Hill, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the latest tensions highlight the administration’s “confusing and inconsistent messages” to Japan, a key ally.

The administration for months before China’s imposition of the air zone had said it was neutral in maritime disputes. It then belatedly backed Japan, invoking defense commitments under the U.S.-Japan defense treaty.

In an obvious attempt to placate China, the United States is sacrificing the assurance to our allies in the region that we are a reliable and steadfast security partner,” Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) said in a statement to the Free Beacon.

Inhofe noted that 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan defense treaty. “The belated invocation of our treaty obligation clearly falls well short of an appropriate response to this latest provocation by China that would be consistent with the spirit and intent of the treaty,” Inhofe said. “Unfortunately, this follows a pattern of fumbled reactions by the Obama administration in other regions of the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon also called the Chinese air zone “bullying” by China that risks a military miscalculation.

“I am glad to see that China’s blatantly aggressive actions aren’t affecting how the U.S. military conducts operations in the region, and I’m pleased to hear that U.S. military flight operations are continuing as planned,” McKeon said in a statement. “It’s important the United States stand with its long-time treaty ally, Japan, against this kind of international bullying,” McKeon said. “I encourage Vice President Biden to call on Beijing to retract this antagonist claim during his visit there later this week.”

In Tokyo, Vice President Joe Biden took a noticeably milder tone on the dispute with China than Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Biden will be in China on Wednesday, December 4, and Thursday, December 5. At a press conference with Biden, Abe said the United States and Japan “should not tolerate the attempt by China to change status quo unilaterally by force.”

Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about a potential conflict caused by the sudden imposition of the air defense zone. “This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” he said. “If you’ll forgive a personal reference, my father had an expression. He said, the only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended. The prospect for miscalculation mistake is too high,” Biden said.

Earlier, a senior Obama administration official briefing reporters on the Biden-Abe talks said the ADIZ imposition by China was “a provocative action, an uncoordinated action at a time when tensions were already running high. And that this is not the kind of thing that contributes to greater peace and security in Northeast Asia or in the Asia Pacific region.”

There also are concerns China will further increase tensions by announcing another air defense zone over the disputed South China Sea. Chinese government spokesman in recent days have not ruled out an ADIZ over that area, where Vietnam, Philippines, and other states are challenging China’s maritime claims over most of the sea.

At the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesman Hong Lei also called on Japan to “correct mistakes” on the air zone. Asked about U.S. government calls for the air zone to be rescinded, Hong said China would not back down. “The establishment of the East China Sea ADIZ falls within China’s sovereignty and is a necessary measure for the Chinese side to exercise its justifiable right of self-defense,” he said.

U.S. officials who briefed reporters in Tokyo also sought to backtrack on reports that the administration has urged U.S. airlines to recognize the Chinese ADIZ by issuing pre-flight plans to the Chinese. The New York Times said the administration urged airlines to follow the rules, a move that appeared to undercut Japan’s position that its airlines should not submit pre-flight plans for paths over the East China Sea.

One administration official said the Federal Aviation Administration did not direct airlines to follow Chinese flight rules but simply issued a guidance reiterating the long-standing practice that they respond to foreign notices to airmen.

Chinese propaganda organs uniformly published reports playing down the fact that the ADIZ is an effort by China to expand its power further from its coasts. Instead, state media and official spokesman sought to portray as a means of improving air safety or protecting Chinese airspace.

China’s Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times, a booster of Chinese militarism, continued its recent inflammatory rhetoric on the East China Sea dispute. “The U.S.’s stance of feigning fairness while actually backing one side between China and Japan seems established, but if Biden’s tricks in Japan go too far, this will seriously affect the atmosphere of his next visit to China,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “The confidence of Chinese society is declining on whether the U.S. and Japan really have no intention to provoke a war in the western Pacific.”

Earlier on Nov. 27 Global Times warned that “maybe an imminent conflict will be waged between China and Japan.” “We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China’s newly-declared ADIZ,” the newspaper said. “If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ.” “If the trend continues, there will likely be frictions and confrontations and even tension in the air like in the Cold War era between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It is therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts.”

Meanwhile, in a sign that China is preparing to use the air defense zone for commercial benefit, China announced recently that it is creating a Deep Sea Base at the northern port of Qingdao that will be used to advance undersea gas and oil exploitation. The base will support China’s deep-sea oil and gas exploration through pier operations, equipment repair and maintenance, diver training, scientific research, and other functions for prospecting for undersea resources.

The disputed Senkakus are said to have vast undersea gas and oil deposits that both China and Japan are seeking to exploit but that so far have not tried to develop.

Former State Department official John Tkacik said Biden stopped well short of condemning China’s imposition of the air zone and instead offered the more diplomatic “deeply concerned” formulation.

“Japan is an ally, and China is at best, and adversary, and it is bad policy to attempt ‘neutrality’ when trying to reassure an ally,” Tkacik said in an email. “The United States administered Okinawa including the Senkaku Islands for 27 years from 1945 to 1972 under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the United States returned Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japan under the terms of a formal treaty in 1972. So, it is disingenuous for the U.S. to claim that it has no position on Japan’s sovereignty in the Senkakus.”

Other states in the region also have voiced worries over China’s East China Sea controls. Philippines Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Chinese air zone threatens freedom of flight. “China’s East Asia Sea ADIZ transforms the entire air zone into its domestic airspace, infringes on the right to freedom of flight in international airspace and compromises the safety of civil aviation and national security of affected states,” state-run Philippine News Agency quoted Hernandez as saying.

The South Korean government said its airlines would not provide flight plans to China, as Beijing is demanding. “The flight path from Korea to Southeast Asia passes through the air defense identification zone announced by China, but we have told civilian airlines not to provide their flight plans to China just as they have done in the past,” an official at the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport said Dec. 2. “This route is approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and air defense identification zones have no standing in international law. It is our position that China cannot take any coercive action against civilian aircraft,” the official said, according to Hankyoreh Online.

Military sources in Taiwan said China’s next move in the East China Sea will be to challenge the middle line dividing China and Taiwan along the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait. The newspaper Tzu-yu Shih-pao [Liberty Daily] quoted a high-ranking general Nov.  24 as saying China will press Taiwan to permit civilian flights to cross the middle line.

See also CODA’s previous posts on this subject:

Obama admin. tells U.S. commercial airlines to abide by China’s rules in air defense zone

ADIZ overlap mapArea colored red is where China’s Air Defense Zone overlaps with Japan’s

Peter Baker and Jane Perlez report for The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2013:

Even as China scrambled fighter jets to enforce its newly declared air defense zone, the Obama administration said on Friday that it was advising American commercial airlines to comply with China’s demands to be notified in advance of flights through the area.

While the United States continued to defy China by sending military planes into the zone unannounced, administration officials said they had made the decision to urge civilian planes to adhere to Beijing’s new rules in part because they worried about an unintended confrontation.

Although the officials made clear that the administration rejects China’s unilateral declaration of control of the airspace over a large area of the East China Sea, the guidance to the airlines could be interpreted in the region as a concession in the battle of wills with China.

“The U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” notice requirements “issued by foreign countries,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that that “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements.”

SenkakusThe disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islets

The decision contrasted with that of Japan’s government this week, when it asked several Japanese airlines, which were voluntarily following China’s rules, to stop, apparently out of fear that complying with the rules would add legitimacy to Chinese claims to islands that sit below the now contested airspace. China’s newly declared zone, experts say, is intended mainly to whittle away at Japan’s hold on the islands, which it has long administered.

On Saturday, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, “We will not comment on what other countries are doing with regard to filing flight plans.” It was not immediately clear if the Obama administration had notified Japan, a close ally, of its decision.

An official at Japan’s Transport Ministry said it had no immediate change to its advice to Japanese airlines.

The American decision drew criticism from some quarters. Stephen Yates, a former Asia adviser to Dick Cheney when he was vice president, said it was “a bad move” that would undercut allies in the region that take a different stance.

But Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state under Bill Clinton and now president of the Brookings Institution, said it was important to avoid an accident while drawing a firm line. “The principal option is to be extremely clear that disputes” over territory “must be resolved through diplomacy and not unilateral action,” he said.

American officials said they began having talks with airlines on Wednesday and characterized the guidance Friday as simply following established international air protocols independent of any political deliberations. The American announcement came on the same day that Chinese state news media said that China sent jets aloft and that they identified two American surveillance planes and 10 Japanese aircraft in the air defense zone the country declared last weekend.

Although there was no indication that China’s air force showed any hostile intent, the move raised tensions. The Chinese had also sent jets on patrol into the contested airspace the day before, but Xinhua, the state-run news agency, indicated that the planes on Friday were scrambled specifically to respond to foreign jets in the area.

Earlier in the week, the United States sent unarmed B-52s into the area, and they proceeded unimpeded. China then appeared to back down somewhat from its initial declaration that planes must file advance flight plans or face possible military action.

The administration’s decision on Friday underscored the delicate position President Obama finds himself in, drawn into a geopolitical dispute that will test how far he is willing to go to contain China’s rising regional ambitions.

China’s move thrust the United States into the middle of the already prickly territorial clash between Beijing and Tokyo, a position the administration had avoided for months even while reiterating that the mutual defense treaty with Japan covers the islands. After the Chinese declaration last weekend, American officials feared that, if left unchallenged, the Chinese action would lead to ever greater claims elsewhere in the Pacific region.

But with planes flying so fast and in such proximity, the administration’s worries grew that an accident or an unintended confrontation could spiral out of control. A midair collision between a Chinese fighter jet and an American spy plane off the coast of China in 2001 killed the fighter pilot and forced the spy plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island, setting off a diplomatic episode until Beijing released the American crew and sent the plane back, broken into parts.

“The challenge here, as with April 2001, is when you have an unexpected crisis, things escalate very, very quickly without any plans for de-escalation,” said Jon M. Huntsman Jr., Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to China. “That’s one of the big challenges we have in the U.S.-China relationship.”

Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe

One of the biggest challenges for Mr. Obama will be navigating the complicated personalities of leaders in Tokyo and Beijing. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, a strong nationalist, has vowed to stand firm against any Chinese encroachments, while President Xi Jinping of China has recently taken over as leader and has promised to advance a strong foreign policy meant to win his country more recognition as an international power.

President of the People's Republic China, Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic China, Xi Jinping

The two countries have been at odds for years over the uninhabited islands known as Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by the Japanese. The United States does not take a position on the dispute.

Although administration officials believe China’s actions are mainly meant to give it an advantage in its struggle with Japan over the islands, experts on Asia say they also fit China’s larger goal of establishing itself as the dominant power in the region, displacing the United States.

Administration officials said they decided to proceed with routine military training and surveillance flights so as not to legitimize China’s assertion of control over the airspace or encourage it to establish a similar air zone over the South China Sea, where it has other territorial disputes. China had said it expected to set up other air defense zones, and experts said they expected one to cover that sea.

“We don’t want this to be the first in what would be a series of assertive moves,” said an administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a delicate diplomatic matter. “The whole area’s fraught.”

Mr. Obama is sending Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the region next week, when he will meet with Mr. Xi and Mr. Abe as well as South Korea’s leader. Although the trip was previously scheduled, it will put Mr. Biden in the center of the dispute, and aides said he would deliver a message of caution to both sides to avoid escalation.

Many countries, including the United States and Japan, have air defense zones, but the coordinates of the Chinese zone overlap those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Peter Dutton, the director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College, said the new air zone also gives China a legal structure to intercept American surveillance flights in international airspace, which have long irritated Beijing. “It is clear that the Chinese do not seek regional stability on any level,” he said. “They intend to be disruptive in order to remake the Asian regional system in accordance with their preferences.”

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders

See also “China’s irredentist nationalism and the six wars to come,” Sept. 23, 2013.

China sends warplanes into disputed East China Sea air defense zone

China-Japan ADIZsChristopher Bodeen reports for the AP, Nov. 28, 2013, that days after the U.S., South Korea and Japan all sent flights through the airspace unilaterally declared last Saturday by China as its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), China today said it had sent warplanes into the ADIZ.

China’s ADIZ overlaps with Japan’s over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, the ownership of which is claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo.

China’s air force sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft on normal air patrols in the zone, the Xinhua agency reported, citing air force spokesman Shen Jinke. Shen described Thursday’s flights as “a defensive measure and in line with international common practices.” He said China’s air force would remain on high alert and will take measures to protect the country’s airspace.

The report did not specify exactly when the flights were sent or whether they had encountered foreign aircraft. The United States, Japan and South Korea  said they have sent flights through the zone without yet encountering any Chinese response.

Analysts say Beijing’s motive in declaring the ADIZ is not to trigger an aerial confrontation but is a more long-term strategy to solidify claims to disputed territory by simply marking the area as its own.

China’s lack of efforts to stop the foreign flights – including two U.S. B-52s that flew through the zone on Tuesday – has been an embarrassment for Beijing. Even some Chinese state media outlets suggested Thursday that Beijing may have mishandled the episodes.

“Beijing needs to reform its information release mechanism to win the psychological battles waged by Washington and Tokyo,” the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid published by the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily, said in an editorial.

Last Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, without prior notice, Beijing began demanding  that passing aircraft identify themselves and accept Chinese instructions or face consequences in an East China Sea zone that overlaps a similar air defense identification zone overseen by Japan since 1969 and initially part of one set up by the U.S. military.

But when tested just days later by U.S. B-52 flights – with Washington saying it made no effort to comply with China’s rules, and would not do so in the future – Beijing merely noted, belatedly, that it had seen the flights and taken no further action.

South Korea‘s military said Thursday its planes flew through the zone this week without informing China and with no apparent interference. Japan also said its planes have been continuing to fly through it after the Chinese announcement, while the Philippines, locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with Beijing over South China Sea islands, said it also was rejecting China’s declaration.

Analysts question China’s technical ability to enforce the zone due to a shortage of early warning radar aircraft and in-flight refueling capability. However, many believe that China has a long-term plan to win recognition for the zone with a gradual ratcheting-up of warnings and possibly also eventual enforcement action. All of which may wear down Japan and change the status quo.

The zone is seen primarily as China’s latest bid to bolster its claim over a string of uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea – known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Beijing has been ratcheting up its sovereignty claims since Tokyo’s privatization of the islands last year.

But the most immediate spark for the zone likely was Japan’s threat last month to shoot down drones that China says it will send to the islands for mapping expeditions, said Dennis Blasko, an Asia analyst at think tank CNA’s China Security Affairs Group and a former Army attache in Beijing.

China’s defense and foreign ministries offered no additional clarification Thursday as to why Beijing failed to respond to the U.S. Air Force flights. Alliance partners the U.S. and Japan together have hundreds of military aircraft in the immediate vicinity.

China on Saturday issued a list of requirements for all foreign aircraft passing through the area, regardless of whether they were headed into Chinese airspace, and said its armed forces would adopt “defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that don’t comply.

Beijing said the notifications are needed to help maintain air safety in the zone. However, the fact that China said it had identified and monitored the two U.S. bombers during their Tuesday flight seems to discredit that justification for the zone, said Rory Medcalf, director of the international security program at Australia’s Lowy Institute. “This suggests the zone is principally a political move,” Medcalf said. “It signals a kind of creeping extension of authority.”

Along with concerns about confrontations or accidents involving Chinese fighters and foreign aircraft, the zone’s establishment fuels fears of further aggressive moves to assert China’s territorial claims – especially in the hotly disputed South China Sea, which Beijing says belongs entirely to it.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun confirmed those concerns on Saturday by saying China would establish additional air defense identification zones “at an appropriate time.”

For now, however, China’s regional strategy is focused mostly on Japan and the island dispute, according to government-backed Chinese scholars. Shen Dingli, a regional security expert and director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University, says China will continue piling the pressure on Tokyo until the latter reverses the decision to nationalize the islands, concedes they are in dispute, and opens up negotiations with Beijing.

Shen said, “China has no choice but to take counter measures. If Japan continues to reject admitting the disputes, it’s most likely that China will take further measures.”

U.S. tells airlines to take precautions over East China Sea

China-Japan ADIZsLesley Wroughton reports for Reuters that on Nov. 27, 2013, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki advised U.S. airlines to take necessary steps to operate safely over the East China Sea as tensions between ally Japan and China increase over new airspace defense zone rules imposed by Beijing.

Referring to China’s recently declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea requiring airplanes flying near the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu islands to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, Psaki said in a daily briefing, “We’re attempting to determine whether the new rules apply to civil aviation and commercial air flight. In the meantime U.S. air carriers are being advised to take all steps they consider necessary to operate safely in the East China Sea. Obviously the safety of airplanes is key … and we’re looking into what this means.”

China’s unilateral new rules mean aircraft have to report flight plans to China, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries and display clear markings of their nationality and registration.

Asked whether U.S. carriers would advise Chinese officials of their flight plans, Psaki said: “I wouldn’t go that far, we’re still looking at it.”

A day before on Nov. 26, Psaki had said that the United States, which has long encouraged ally Japan and China to resolve the territorial dispute through diplomacy, did not apply its air defense identification zone procedures to foreign aircraft and neither should others. “The United States does not apply that procedure to foreign aircraft so it is certainly one we don’t think others should apply,” Psaki said.

That same day, the United States defied China’s new rules by flying two unarmed B-52 bombers through the contested airspace. Pentagon officials said the bombers were on a routine training mission.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns is set to meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin in Washington on Wednesday. Psaki said the meeting was planned long in advance. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also will raise the issue during a visit to Beijing next week. Biden’s visit is part of a week-long trip to China, Japan and South Korea.

See also:

U.S. directly challenges China’s air defense zone with B-52 bombers

Map of east china sea and declared air defence zone

The BBC reports, Nov. 26, 2013, that the United States has flown two B-52 bombers over the disputed islands in the East China Sea in defiance of China’s declaration last Saturday of a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the sea.

China and Japan both claim ownership over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are a source of increasing tension between the two countries.

The aircraft, which were unarmed, had taken off from Guam on Monday and the flight was part of a regular exercise in the area, US defense officials said. Both planes later returned to Guam.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the U.S. bombers had followed “normal procedures” and that Washington had “conducted operations in the area of the Senkakus. We have continued to follow our normal procedures, which include not filing flight plans, not radioing ahead and not registering our frequencies.” There had been no response from China, he added.

The US – which has more than 70,000 troops in Japan and South Korea – had previously said it would not abide by the Chinese-imposed zone. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region”.

China set up the ADIZ insisting that aircraft obey its rules by warning China of their flight plans or face “emergency defensive measures.”  In a statement announcing the air defense zone, the Chinese defense ministry said aircraft must report a flight plan, “maintain two-way radio communications” and “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries. The statement warns, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not co-operate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.”

Japan has dismissed the Chinese ADIZ as “not valid at all” and two of its biggest airlines announced today they will not abide by China’s new rules, in accordance with a request from the government in Tokyo.

But Reuters reported yesterday (Nov. 25) that four Asian airlines will give their flight plans to Beijing:

Civil aviation officials from Hong Kong and Taiwan said their carriers entering the zone must send flight plans to Chinese aviation authorities. A transport ministry official in Seoul said South Korean planes would do the same.

An official at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau said Japanese airlines flying through the region to non-mainland Chinese destinations would likely need to inform China of their plans. “Airlines have been advised to take greater care in the area,” said another bureau official.

Singapore Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd said they would keep Chinese authorities informed of their flights through the area.

Korean Air said its flight plans would be delivered to Chinese authorities but the routes its pilots took would not be affected. Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings also said the zone had not affected their flights.

China’s unilateral establishment of an air defense zone that overlaps areas claimed by Japan is a strong statement and one that raises the risk of possible miscalculation and escalation in the region.

The ADIZ declaration shows President Xi Jinping’s resolve to defend what China conceives to be its territorial integrity, including the integrity of lost territories. Over the last decade, populist nationalism in China has been fueled by an official narrative of humiliation at the hands of the West which began more than 100 years ago when Imperial China was defeated by Britain in the Opium War of 1840-1842. Although Chinese nationalist passions have been tempered by adherence to Deng Xiaoping’s “hide and bide” policy of strategic restraint, recent demonstrations of Chinese military power and increasingly bellicose rhetoric would suggest that Xi Jinping may be prepared to overlook this policy.

Japan has already lodged a strong protest over what it said was an “escalation” by China.

The Republic of China on Taiwan, which also claims the islands, expressed regret at Beijing’s move and promised that its military would take measures to protect Taiwan’s national security.

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