Two related developments; the declaration of ADIZ and the confrontation of a US navy guided missile cruiser Cowpen with a Chinese ship on 5 December 2013 has brought attention to the security architecture in the Asia Pacific. It is worth highlighting that the ADIZ is not a Chinese innovation, it was first established by the US in 1950 creating a joint North American ADIZ with Canada. This begs the questions; what are the larger political objectives of China in the region? How far the US, Japan and the South Korea would let it go in upsetting it?
Political Objectives of China in the Region
Both the East China Sea and the South China Sea have been potential flash point in the Asia Pacific region http://www.ipcs.org/article/china/china-and-the-asia-pacific-trends-challenges-and-dilemmas-3796.html. China was interested in the region from last November itself http://www.ipcs.org/pdf_file/issue/IB198-CRP-Teshu-China.pdf.
Needless, to discuss the ADIZ is crucial because it covers the contested archipelago. It falls under the contested territory between China-Japan (Diaoyu/ Senkaku) and China-South Korea (Suyan reef/leodo reef). The zone overlaps with the exiting ADIZ of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Notably, the ADIZ is aimed at strengthening Beijing’s claim over the disputed islands in the ECS. It will allow China to push for bolder action in the region thereby giving the legitimacy of international law and norms.
The ADIZ would give China a chance to keep track of all ariel movement in the region. China has already declared an exclusive economic zone in a part of Western Pacific thus making a greater presence in the region. This can also be seen as a response to the US ‘pivot to Asia’ or ‘rebalance strategy’. China’s actions are aimed at sending a message to the US that it is serious about challenging an Asian order in which America has been the dominant power for forty years.
The declaration of the ADIZ came immediately after the meeting of the third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Party Congress. Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence on China’s establishment of the ECS, ADIZ “the Chinese government announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone on November 23, 2013. It is necessary measure for China to protect its state sovereignty and territory and airspace security. It is conducive to maintaining flying safety in international airspace, and is in line with international laws and conventions. The announcement of the East China Sea ADIZ has earned understanding and recognition from an increasing number of countries and peoples, but misunderstandings or even distortions also exist”.
Perhaps, the two abovementioned two incidents amount to more than just occupation of few islands and rock; possession of natural resources; it is an indication of China’s neighbourly policy in the region. China’s principal foreign policy objective has been to seek a stable external environment as a favourable condition for domestic economic development. This was retreated in this year’s defence white paper; it affirmed the continuing validity of China’s primary external strategic guidelines. It states that China has a period of strategic opportunity extending through 2020 in which a benign external security environment allows it to focus on its internal development.
These developments in the region speak volume about the ‘New Leadership’s’ policy in the region. It is definitely aimed at countering US military deployment in Asia. Conversely, it seems the twenty four character policy of Deng Xiaoping is over. China is playing the game of ‘weiqi’ where it is slowly expanding its influence through steps that are not at the threshold of violence and do not trigger a forcible response.
International Response to the incidents
The assertive Chinese behaviour has lead to a greater US-China strategic rivalry. The tension is already expanding to the SCS region which is evident from the collision of the US and Chinese ship. The collision was the most serious one since 2009, when Chinese ships and planes repeatedly harassed the US ocean surveillance vessels USNS impeccable in the South China Sea. The US Secretary of State John Kerry has already warned China of declaring an ADIZ in the SCS. Washington has committed forty million USD to strengthen its sea defence capabilities and the two countries are close to opening up of Subic Bay and the Clark Air base.
Japan is already planning to set up a new amphibious military unit and deploy unarmed surveillance drones in its southwest in the disputed area. The first ever joint naval exercise between India and Japan is also a fall out the ADIZ.
South Korea announced the expansion of its ADIZ, further south in the disputed area; prior to this South Korea’s ADIZ did not cover the submerged rock. It plans to hold talks with “related countries” to avoid any further military clashes. Other countries like Australia, Philippines, Vietnam, Germany, France and European Union. Australia stated this move as ‘unhelpful to regional security’.