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December 6, 2013

On November 23, the Chinese government announced the establishment of the East China Sea air defense identification zone, (ADIZ).  The international community has reacted strongly and passionately to the creation of the ADIZ, fearing the zone will lead to increased tension and a risk of war with neighboring Japan that would also pull in the U.S. as Japan’s ally.   In the two weeks following the zone’s creation, the U.S. has responded in a number of ways, including altering the focus Vice President Biden’s trip to both Japan and China away from discussion about trade to a discussion regarding the ADIZ.  Additionally, the Pentagon’s leadership offered a possible way to defuse the crisis over airspace control.

One of these mechanisms promoted by the Pentagon might include for China to make a distinction between aircraft bound for China intending to enter Chinese sovereign airspace and those intending to fly through international airspace included in the ADIZ on their way to other destinations, said General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  For the time being, however, China’s leadership has been making demands on aircraft regardless of why they are entering sovereign airspace claiming that it’s destabilizing to have aircrafts enter the ADIZ.

Shortly after the creation of the ADIZ the U.S. responded by sending two B-52 bombers through the zone.  This demonstrated to the Chinese leadership that the U.S. military would not recognize the zone, which prompted China to dispatch fighter jets to monitor air traffic.  The United States position on China’s ADIZ is clear—it does not support it.  How does this push back and resistance from the U.S. affect the Beijing leadership?  Moreover, nearly two weeks have passed since the creation of the zone, during this time has the Party leadership changed its mind at all, and how does it justify the creation of the zone?

In a statement released by Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, the creation of the air defense identification zone was a, “necessary measure for China to protect its state sovereignty and territorial and airspace security.”  Geng went on to say that the announcement of the East China Sea ADIZ has already earned the understanding and recognition from an increasing number of countries and peoples, however misunderstandings and even distortions of the ADIZ also exist.

China believes that the international community is misinterpreting several major things.  First, some interpret the ADIZ to be a territorial airspace that violates other countries’ interests.  China debunks this criticism by saying that the ADIZ is essentially different from territorial airspace or no-fly zones, because it is an international airspace for the purpose of identification and early warning.  The second misinterpretation is that the ADIZ is a no-fly zone thus accusing China of severely undermining the freedom of overflight.  China rebukes this criticism by arguing that the, “ADIZ is not a no-fly zone and that it will not affect the freedom of overflight which are based on international law, of other countries’ aircraft.”  China holds to the statement that their ADIZ’s was established to set aside enough time for early warning in order to defend their national airspace.  Thus the ADIZ should be seen as a defense mechanism not an offensive one.  Additionally, China contends that not only does the zone not aim at any specific country or target, but also that it does not constitute a threat to any country or region.

Another criticism the Chinese leadership has addressed is the issue of China’s monitoring capabilities in the East China Sea ADIZ.  In response to this, the Party holds that the Chinese military is highly capable and determined to safeguard the security of national territory and territorial airspace, and is also fully capable of exercising effective control over the ADIZ.

In regards to international concerns that China’s requirement of report flight plans is unusual, China has responded that there is not unified international rule as to how to request that other countries report their flight plans into ADIZ.   Additionally, many countries require that aircrafts flying over their ADIZ to report flight plans beforehand, thus China is not unique in doing this.  Moreover, China argues that their requirement of reporting flight plans and relevant information is necessary to ensuring flight safety and avoiding misunderstandings and misjudgment in the region and countries that insist on not reporting flight plans are acting very irresponsibly.

According to an article released on Xinhua, “China unswervingly adheres to the road of peaceful development and a defensive national defense policy.”  The article reiterates that the East China Sea ADIZ is a zone of safety, a zone of cooperation— not of competition.  Ultimately China holds that they are willing to conduct active communication in order to jointly safeguard flight safety and promote peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region.

Through the above paragraphs it is clear that China’s support for the ADIZ is strong and unwavering.  It contends that the ADIZ does not pose a threat to the international community and thus should not be viewed that way.  For the time being, it appears as if this will continue to be a source of conflict not only between China and its Asian neighbors.

For Further Coverage of China’s ADIZ Zone, please see the following new sources and commentary

XinhuaDefense Ministry’s Spokesman on China’s ADIZ

TimeWhy China’s New Air-Defense Zone Matters

The Wall Street Journal- U.S. China Signal Retreat From Standoff Over Air-Defense Zone

MilitaryPentagon Urges China to Back Off No-Fly Zone

Complied and Edited By Madeline Fetterly