Was China's ADIZ a mistake?

Beijing's new air defence zone has upset the regional status quo and prompted Tokyo and Seoul to revisit defence policy.

by

    As I look out my hotel room window in central Tokyo I can see the lights of the planes coming in to land at Haneda airport.

    They’re queuing up very much like the planes that have passed over the clutch of disputed islands known as the Senkakus or Diaoyus in the East China Sea in the past 72 hours.

    Aircraft from the US, Korea and Japan itself have all wanted to fly through China’s self-imposed Air Defence Identification Zone or ADIZ, and do so without telling China in advance they were doing so. 

    China had declared it would respond accordingly if any aircraft were deemed a threat to territory it considered its own. The fact the three nations’ aircraft were able to fly through the zone without coming to any harm would indicate how little the three feared China’s threats and demands. 

    But the new Chinese ADIZ has upset the regional security status quo – and sent diplomats scrambling for a way to soothe troubled waters.

    South Korea is considering a tit-for-tat expansion of its own air defence zone. Japan is in the middle of a defence policy revamp and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for a change in Japan’s official pacifist constitution.

    'Play with the big boys'

    It seems on the face of it a rather large miscalculation by China – perhaps expecting the two smaller nations to kow-tow to its bullying tactics. How China responds to the two-fingered fly overs is anyone’s guess. An animal is said to be at its most dangerous when it’s wounded. Could a China nursing a bruised ego be lethal?

    The security tensions will no doubt be top of the agenda when US Vice President Joe Biden visits the region next week.

    He’s in the perfect position diplomatically to reassure Japan and South Korea that America has got their backs, and remind China that, if it wants to play with the big boys, America’s military is still the world’s largest.

    What everyone has to hope, however, is that there are no trigger-happy soldiers or pilots on duty in the region over the coming weeks.

    A mistake now could be truly catastrophic.


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