What China’s Air Defense Identification Zone Could Mean for the South China Sea



A political, not military, tool

As rhetoric abounds on all sides regarding the South China Sea, China has revealed that it may impose an air defense identification zone (adiz) in the region if the United States continues doing what Beijing labels “provocative moves.”

The South China Morning Post (scmp) quotes a source close to the People’s Liberation Army as saying:

If the U.S. 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.

An adiz is an extension of a country’s normal airspace, providing the country an early warning system to detect and respond appropriately to foreign, and possibly hostile, aircraft. If a foreign aircraft enters an adiz without warning, the enforcers may scramble fighter jets to identify the aircraft and determine whether it poses a threat. During the Cold War, the U.S. established the first adiz to reduce the risk of surprise attacks.

In November 2013, the Chinese dropped a bombshell when they announced and attempted to enforce an adiz in the East China Sea, which included the Senkaku Islands—uninhabited territory controlled by Japan but claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

Many Chinese experts denounced the original adiz in the East China Sea, seeing it as too provocative. At the same time, the Trumpet gave its analysis of China’s decision: “Beijing’s main motivation for setting up the adiz was to further expose the U.S. as an unreliable ally.

Bound by a treaty to protect Japan, the United States flew a pair of B-52s through the adiz. Washington hoped its decision to challenge the adiz would prevent the Chinese from taking more aggressive action in the Senkaku dispute. Yet the adiz is technically still in effect (although it is not enforced). China still claims the Senkaku Islands and has continued rapid buildup of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

If China does set up an adiz, the expectation among many is that it will likely cover the territory described by its “9-dash line.”

China’s Defense Ministry said in a written statement that 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 ministry wrote.

This is hard to swallow. China faced no security threats from the air when it announced its first adiz in 2013.

If no adiz is established, China is still in a good position—even just talking about an adiz demonstrates its strength in the region. When other nations are not prepared to use force, rhetoric is a powerful tool, and China will continue to use it effectively.

Full article: What China’s Air Defense Identification Zone Could Mean for the South China Sea (The Trumpet)

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