EDITORIAL: China should withdraw unacceptable air defense zone

November 26, 2013

Mending frosty relations between Japan and China and restoring mutual trust requires sensible efforts by both countries.

Doubts about a country’s will to resolve bilateral problems will inevitably arise if it takes action that only fuels distrust.

China’s defense ministry has established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. Within their ADIZs, countries monitor and deal with suspicious aircraft that approach their territorial airspace.

China’s new ADIZ not only overlaps substantially with Japan’s long-standing ADIZ in the area, but it also encompasses the Senkaku Islands, which are Japanese territory.

Beijing’s unilateral act of establishing an air zone that overlaps with the neighboring country’s zone is totally unacceptable. China should reconsider and withdraw the measure on its own initiative.

Since the Japanese government put the Senkaku Islands under state ownership in September 2012, Chinese government vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the islands.

In addition to its maritime activities, China is indiscreetly expanding the scope of its actions into the airspace to strengthen its claim over the uninhabited islands.

Beijing is apparently disgruntled over Japan’s criticisms about Chinese ships and aircraft moving outside Chinese territory due to the geographical closeness between the continent and the Japanese islands.

But Beijing’s latest move is not about Chinese ships and aircraft passing through areas close to Japan. It is tantamount to a Chinese declaration that the country is willing to take military action against Japanese aircraft over the Senkaku Islands.

Potential clashes in the air are far more dangerous than those involving ships. In 2001, a mid-air collision between a U.S. intelligence aircraft and a Chinese interceptor fighter resulted in the death of a Chinese pilot.

The U.S. government has swiftly denounced Beijing’s “unilateral action” on its ADIZ as “an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.” That’s a natural response to the provocative act.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reiterated that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. Washington’s dire warnings to Beijing reflect its serious concerns about Beijing’s action.

China claims that Japan is the one that changed the status quo concerning the disputed islands. But unlike China’s new ADIZ, the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands does not qualify as an attempt to change the status quo with grave military implications.

Chinese military aircraft have repeatedly intruded into Japan’s ADIZ. The Air Self-Defense Force scrambled its jet fighters in response to such Chinese intrusions 306 times in the last fiscal year alone.

By establishing the ADIZ, Beijing appears to be trying to institutionalize its aircraft operations to create a fait accompli. China must refrain from any dangerous act of testing the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

Japan, for its part, should not let itself be provoked into actions that can escalate the tension. For possible international disputes over ADIZs, it is common for countries, especially neighboring ones, to conclude an agreement on operational rules to avoid trouble through talks between their defense authorities.

In addition to demanding that China retract the ADIZ, the Japanese government should make tenacious efforts to find a way to fix the broken channel of bilateral communications between the two governments. That is vital for preventing unexpected events that could have serious consequences.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 26

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A Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance aircraft patrols near Uotsurishima Island, one of the Senkaku Islands, in 2011. (Pool)

A Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance aircraft patrols near Uotsurishima Island, one of the Senkaku Islands, in 2011. (Pool)

  • A Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance aircraft patrols near Uotsurishima Island, one of the Senkaku Islands, in 2011. (Pool)

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