Image Credit: Defense News
Author's Note: Sorry for the lack of content as of late. As I am a man of my word, I've been writing the long awaited "China's Anti Access Strategy: Submarine Force" article I promised several months ago. Hopefully it will be published in the near future.
In a baffling display of ill-conceived foreign policy, China's new air defense identification zone (AIDZ) has managed to draw the ire of nearly every country within the intimidate vicinity of China, most notably Japan and South Korea. As one geopolitical analyst reporting to Breaking Defense phrased it, "This ancient civilization, which has thousands of years of diplomatic experience and gave us Sun Tzu and all his subtlety, has given us some ham-handed diplomacy for the last few years".
Some have called upon the USAF and USN to make daily runs into the AIDZ to demonstrate US commitment to the region (in addition to the recent trip undertaken by a pair of US B-52 aircraft). Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have also violated the zone. As Defense News reported, the response by Chinese media outlets to these violations was largely hawkish, especially toward Japan. However, the Chinese media has expressed a more measured tone in its rhetoric toward the United States when compared to Japan. The following is from the Global Times newspaper which is widely recognized to be an outlet for the Chinese Communist Party: "We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China's newly declared ADIZ. If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ...We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan...If the US does not go too far, we will not target it in safeguarding our air defense zone"
China emphatically maintains it has the right to create an AIDZ and US and Japanese criticism is unjust as both countries maintain AIDZ of their own. In principle, China certainly has the right to create an AIDZ judging from a historical precedent set by the United States and other countries (the US has had AIDZs since World War II). However, China's existing AIDZ as outlined by its Ministry of Defense does not clearly qualify as to what is internationally recognized as an AIDZ in many respects.
China's establishment of an AIDZ represents an opportunity for the United States to expand upon its influence in the region if certain measures are taken. China is already widely perceived to be a regional bully, recent events will almost certainly solidify existing perceptions within South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. The creation of China's AIDZ in conjunction with its disaster relief response to the Philippines, or its lack of a substantial initial response, has certainly reduced Chinese soft power in the region. Meanwhile, US soft power in the region has been on the rise and the deployment of B-52 aircraft in addition to the ongoing massive naval exercises between the US 7th Fleet and the Japanese Navy reaffirm Washington's strong commitment to the region.
US 7th Fleet lead by the USS George Washington at the AnnualEx 2013 exercise.
Vice President Joe Biden is met with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday over a private dinner and two hour long bilateral meeting. According to the former US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, the amount of time President Xi afforded Biden was irregular in its generosity. While the two reportedly have a cordial relationship, Biden clearly expressed the United States does not recognize China's AIDZ. Clearly the US must express its solidarity with Japan and South Korea but, in terms of rhetoric, it would not be prudent to to push china too far on its AIDZ. It is highly improbable that China will recant its previously expressed statements as it would severely damage to the prestige of the current Chinese leadership. However, China could choose to effectively not enforce the zone. This would likely be the most plausible solution to reduce tensions without causing total embarrassment for the Chinese leadership and the US could continue its operations in the area, provided the US does not communicate publicly about how often it violates the zone e.g. routine surveillance flights (as to not embarrass the Chinese leadership on a continual basis). Some US analysts already doubt China could enforce its zone even if it tried:
“Let China run itself crazy trying to enforce this...I just can’t see how China will sustain the enforcement. Too much traffic goes through there. If no country recognizes it, [and] don’t respond to China’s IFF [identification friend or foe] interrogation or VID [visual identification], then this new ADIZ is meaningless.”
On a related note, A White House source reporting to Reuters expressed that negotiating a deal with Iran is "the top item on his foreign agenda for the rest of his term." While President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts in negotiating an preliminary agreement with Iran is certainly commendable, China's creation of its AIDZ serves as a blunt reminder that the United States must maintain its focus on the Asia-Pacific. The pivot strategy is arguably the wisest foreign policy action made by the Obama Administration and recent events have made it abundantly clear that more US resources must be allocated to the Asia-Pacific region.