China over the weekend claimed the airspace above the disputed waters of East China Sea but the U.S. and Japan are not yet ready to comply with the move. Just this Saturday, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over portions of the East China Sea. The Beijing declaration demands that all air crafts whether civilian or military, flying over the zone must identify themselves and must follow the instructions given to them by the Chinese. If these instructions are not followed, the air crafts will be met with “emergency measures.”
The ADIZ is above a group of uninhabited islands but are believed to be rich in natural resources. The area is managed by Japan but claimed also by China.
Japan’s initial reaction was to dismiss such claims especially with the creation of the ADIZ and added that by implementing the edict China in effect is altering the status quo and the possibility of escalating the regional tensions. To this end, Japanese airlines like ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines with operations in the area have stopped submitting flight plans to China. Tokyo as of this writing also continues the flight of its aircrafts through the zone because the aviation industry of Japan has already concluded that there is no immediate threat to the safety of their passengers by ignoring Beijing’s demands.
The U.S. on Monday, allowed the flight of two unarmed B-52 bombers over the area and did this without notifying Beijing about it. The U.S. through Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has guaranteed Tokyo about Washington’s continuing support of the defense pact signed by their respective countries. Hagel praised Tokyo “for exercising appropriate restraint,” in this recent situation.
The pact is also called The U.S. and Japan Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement which was signed in 1954 and calls for both countries to militarily support each other in special circumstances. Washington does not take sides on the question of sovereignty over the disputed islands but acknowledges that Tokyo has the administrative right over the islands and therefore Washington is bound to protect Tokyo if ever armed conflict escalates in the area.
But with the recent announcement of Beijing over the creation of ADIZ, the U.S. government advised American airlines operating in the vicinity to make the necessary adjustments and operate safely as much as possible when passing over the East China Sea.
Beijing on the issue of the two U.S. B-52 bombers entering the airspace said that they have tracked the air crafts but did not demand details from the American pilots. Beijing nonetheless dispatched an aircraft carrier in the region for unknown purposes.
Michael Green of Georgetown University said that the Americans responded correctly in this situation and that China may have misjudged what the world will do in their ADIZ declaration. He added that the U.S. and Japan responded quickly and decisively over the matter.
Right now, the chances of a full-blown military confrontation is very slim. This is because the Japanese constitution prohibits them from initiating military offensives. Also, the U.S. military power and presence in the region is still far more superior compared to China despite Beijing’s great strides in beefing up their military power over the past years.
The U.S. and Japan quickly defied China’s move claiming the airspace for themselves. And with this recent action, China may have painted herself in a corner and alienated herself further from the rest.
By Roberto I. Belda