Did China make strategic error with air zone?
November 26th, 2013
11:52 AM ET

Did China make strategic error with air zone?

By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

It’s difficult to know precisely what was behind China’s decision to institute an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) at the weekend. Chinese claims to the contrary, it is clearly meant to up the pressure on Japan in the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, over which the ADIZ extends. Internal Chinese political dynamics may also be at work here; President Xi Jinping, for example, must be benefitting from taking a strong stance vis-à-vis Japan. But whatever the reason for the creation of the ADIZ at this time, Beijing may ultimately regret it – and not only because it increases the likelihood of a violent incident over the East China Sea.

First off, the move needlessly antagonizes Taiwan and South Korea. The fact is that it puts a wrinkle into recently stable cross-Strait relations, as Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the Senkakus (known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan), and it now has an overlapping ADIZ with the mainland.

The ADIZ is even more surprising in the context of China-South Korea relations, which have looked particularly warm of late. Seoul’s quarrels with Japan over history have been at their worst in recent months, and Beijing has effectively stoked that fire. But China’s new ADIZ overlaps with South Korea’s; covers the disputed Socotra Rock (which both countries claim as within their own exclusive economic zone); and may extend a bit too close for comfort to Jeju Island, where South Korea is building a major naval base. In one fell swoop, Beijing has reminded Seoul that South Korea has more in common with Japan than it normally likes to admit.

Second, rather than lead to heightened wariness in Washington about getting caught in the middle of the dispute, the United States clearly considers the ADIZ a challenge to its support for Japan and its ability to operate freely in international airspace above the East China Sea. That explains the promptness with which Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued statements about the ADIZ.

More from GPS: Why Asia is arguing over its islands

Kerry expressed deep concern and described the ADIZ creation as an “escalatory” and “unilateral action” designed to “change the status quo” in the region. After also expressing concern and describing the action as “destabilizing,” Hagel felt compelled to assert that the implementation of the ADIZ “will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region” and to “reaffirm” that “Article V of the U.S. Japan Mutual Defense Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands.” An unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal that “there would likely be a demonstration of American military resolve to continue operating in the area of the islands without Chinese interference.”

Both statements – especially Hagel’s – are a boost for Japan, and neither was well received in Beijing. But things could get even worse for China. Indeed, Beijing will have much more cause for concern if the ADIZ leads the United States to alter its officially neutral position on the sovereignty dispute, something that Washington has thus far been at pains to avoid.

In his statement, Kerry noted that “we don’t support efforts by any state to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter its national airspace.” This raises an interesting question: If U.S. aircraft operating in the vicinity of the Senkakus refuse Chinese requests for identification, will that mark an implicit rejection of Chinese claims to sovereignty over the islands?

An explicit recognition of Japanese sovereignty, moreover, may no longer be considered out of bounds in Washington. China has consistently opted for escalation over the past 14 months; the ADIZ is only the latest action to not only test Japan but the U.S.-Japan alliance as well. U.S. policy regarding the Senkakus has always been somewhat confusing: the United States recognizes Japanese administration of the islands, but takes no position on competing sovereignty claims, while considering defense of the islands to be a treaty obligation. The logic for maintaining that policy is weakening. An Obama administration that must be growing tired of China’s tests may be looking for ways to communicate in unqualified terms that the U.S.-Japan alliance is an unshakeable one.

Japan, meanwhile, will be looking for ways to communicate its own resolve in the face of Chinese pressure. Since the Japanese government’s purchase from private owners of three of Senkaku islands last year, Japan’s actions have generally been non-escalatory. But Tokyo can issue only so many diplomatic demarches, and has increasingly limited alternative means of signaling steadfastness to Beijing. The government has long toyed with the idea of stationing officials on the islands. As the Wall Street Journal reported in September:

“A top Japanese government official said Tuesday that stationing government officials on a group of disputed islands is one way of strengthening Japan’s claim to them…Placing government officials on the islands ‘remains one option,’ chief government spokesman Yoshihida Suga told reporters at a regular news conference. ‘Under what circumstance we’ll consider [that option] will be decided strategically,’ Mr. Suga said.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his advisors may be considering whether now is the time. But regardless of what they decide in this instance, Chinese actions are likely pushing Japan closer to adopting this course rather than intimidating Tokyo into inaction.

Over the last year, China may have succeeded in altering the decades-long status quo in the East China Sea. But actions once apparently aimed at upsetting the reality of Japanese control of the islands now increasingly appear aimed at asserting Chinese control. The difference may be subtle, but it marks a dangerous threshold. Crossing it may lead Japan, the United States, and others to take the very steps that Beijing most wants to forestall.

It’s still too soon to tell, but China’s new ADIZ may prove to be a strategic blunder – one that ultimately puts China’s own interests at risk, while having lasting repercussions for stability in Asia.

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Topics: Asia • China • Foreign Policy • Japan

soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. STEVE

    what if China's war planes fly over Hawaii?

    November 27, 2013 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • STEVE

      the US waged war over vietnam, Afgan, Iraq in the name of fighting communism and terrorism, and millions of innocent people died in the war, including thousands of young American soldiers. If you value life, do not wage war again. This time against China, be aware.

      November 27, 2013 at 12:52 am | Reply
    • RayD

      The US no longer has bullie power... the worlds governments are uniting in ideologies, and cause.. the US is now at Mercy of the UN, finding itself isolated on many topics which it deems in the interest of its national security... the wire taping, hard line war mongers within its government, and sideshow they call congress have eroded all credibility....

      November 27, 2013 at 3:31 am | Reply
  2. SC

    It is crazy to war with China no matter what.

    November 27, 2013 at 1:01 am | Reply
    • STEVE


      November 27, 2013 at 1:06 am | Reply
    • RayD

      The only person who is shooting themselvesin the foot is the US...China will launch a ecomomic war by stopping all T bill purchases.. the rest of the world will still have to buy the cheap Chinese goods... its the american public that will suffer at the stores paying triple the price for goods they need..while the governments around the world start trading goods in the yuan.dont belive me? CANADIAN MUNICPALites are selling thier bonds directly in the yuan..sad to say ..a trend they are only following.as the world knows the US fed will print itself to to extinction...prior to losing its reserve status...

      November 27, 2013 at 3:19 am | Reply
  3. STEVE

    some of my comments do not show up. censorship?

    November 27, 2013 at 1:07 am | Reply
  4. STEVE

    stop being a hypocrite, CNN has censorship too!!

    November 27, 2013 at 1:08 am | Reply
  5. cartwright

    Embargo everything Chinese and refuse to send them food or pay the debt they own.

    November 27, 2013 at 1:10 am | Reply
    • Astyanax

      Then WE'LL starve and go bankrupt!

      November 27, 2013 at 6:46 am | Reply
    • Hari

      Then you will default on your loans and go bankrupt. Your banks will collapse and repeat of the great depression will happen

      November 27, 2013 at 6:58 am | Reply
    • Jack


      November 27, 2013 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • W Leung

      GM sell more cars in China , GE Boeing IBM all have manufacturing plants selling to the Chinesemarket ; You guys told the Janpanese We share the same value but behind close door you call them Yellow ba****d just the same Two faces creatures

      November 27, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply
  6. STEVE

    scoundrels and losers indeed do that.

    November 27, 2013 at 1:13 am | Reply
  7. Daniel Daronda

    Clever MF Chinese are just testing the waters......... literally.......... to see if any nation/s respond, and how powerful is the response......... this will give them a good idea about how to proceed in their obvious need to move up the hierarchy and thirsty desire to become #1 economically, politically & militarily............ only the US has the resources, clout & military to cut them down to size.............. Confucious he say: "when one nation sticks dick into the wind, for testing, bully of planet must chop dick off, to teach that nation not to test the wind"............. 🙂

    November 27, 2013 at 1:46 am | Reply
    • Funny

      If China fight the US now, US will lose. What good is it when the US bath in hell fire?

      November 27, 2013 at 10:03 am | Reply
      • mejerk

        How does the US lose? Because they cant survive without all the cheap garbage China produces? psssh China is a slave to the world. US can live without Wal-Mart.

        November 27, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
      • Reality Check

        1. Learn English
        2. Study up on military strengths of various nations
        3. Report to your Chinese superiors that the U.S. is far more powerful than China militarily
        4. End up in prison camp for telling the truth in China

        November 27, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
      • FM

        LOL! I agree with Reality Check's list of responses, add:

        5. Chop, chop. You go now!

        November 27, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
      • Sharpy

        China is evolving and its military could rival the USA's sooner than we think-yikes! Start learning manderin etc

        November 28, 2013 at 3:47 am |
    • jianfei

      LOL Daniel!... Confucious say 'Man who go to bed thinking of woman, wake up with solution in hand!' ^^

      November 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • daronda daronda

      disappointing you could not make your point without racist confucius say garbage. do you make ruskie puns or beans n rice comments when we disagree with other nations? moron.

      November 28, 2013 at 2:04 am | Reply
  8. Rufus Reeta

    Will every generation have to be involved in conflict in order to know that stuff that happens in war is of no benefit to the Mankinds Spirit? Listen to the old and wise Men who fought in world war 1! Ask the German warriors of the 2nd world war especially those who fought in the eastern front about the bitter, searingly deathly fruits of aggression. Do not be deceived aggressors, warmongers, murderers...etc of the peaceful do reap immeasurable pain, even if they were the most powerful in the world at the start of their aggression.

    November 27, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
    • jianfei

      Agree with you, unfortunately, with every new generation come new ignorant leaders..so we must fight. thats the way.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  9. brouhaha

    Chinese CCP up to no good...

    November 27, 2013 at 5:09 am | Reply
  10. Moses kestenbaum ODA

    Communist china is a heretic dictator state. Why the usa does business with china? I will never know

    November 27, 2013 at 6:07 am | Reply
    • mister know it all

      Cheap prices are irresistable for most of us. Politicians knew cheap Chinese goods would boost our apparent standard of living (wow... look how much more stuff we have than our parents had). You should already know this if you are old enough to vote.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:16 am | Reply
    • vatoloke

      One word: WALMART

      November 27, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
  11. mrwho

    I think you all have it wrong.all the chinese are doing, is grandtanding.they don't want a war against the usa, it would br suicide.if the usa has something over china, it's this; experience in modern warfare. We have the most ready military and that fact is uncontested. Consider all the wars we have been in the last 100 years and compare that to chinas. Heck don't even have to go that far two decades will sufice. Chinese may have the numbers, but we are the masters of combat.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:27 am | Reply
    • k

      Arrogant and ignorant. Typical american.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:40 am | Reply
      • FM

        But true. Its good to be king! You go now!

        November 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • DavidL

      Maybe you're too young to remember the Korea war (60 years ago) and the Vietnam war (40 years ago). These two wars, either directly fighting Chinese (Korea war) or with Chinese backing (Vietnam), American did not win. In Korea, American army was chased back by Chinese army from Yalu river to 38 parallel. There was a very poor China then. So don't think you have absolute power over somebody. No body can guarantee the outcome of a war. Peace is precious.

      November 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Reply
      • mejerk

        What is your point?? The US didn't fight either of those wars to win. They were just trying to get both sides to quit killing each other. 36,000 Americans killed vs 400,000+ Chinese killed...those are not numbers to be proud of. If I were China I would sit out any type of conflict involving the US. BTW, who supplied vehicles, weapons, etc in Vietnam? RUSSIA! not China.

        November 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • FM

        Get your facts straight mister:

        1. At the Yalu in Korea, American military units were caught by surprise by massive Chinese forces not thought to be in the area. In addition, after WW2, the Army was going through downsizing & was ill equipped to respond to North Korea, but we did. Yes we lost men at Yalu & Chosin, but inflicted approx. 1M casualties on the Chicoms as we pushed back. I doubt US forces will ever get caught w/their pants down like that again.

        2. Yes we lost the Vietnam War, but we lost to the Vietnamese, not the Chicoms. Chicom were supplying them, etc. but weren't present in meaningful numbers in that conflict. That was a limited war, unfortunately for our military. After WW2, politicians to this date have proven they cannot manage conflict/war.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm |
  12. aurelius

    China is now categorized as a paper tiger in the new edition of Jane's Fighting Ships.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:32 am | Reply
    • 中国人

      that's your personal opinion,but who can ignore china's power now.china is no l onger the same as one hundred years ago.

      November 27, 2013 at 9:51 am | Reply
      • Dur

        Power? Yes yes, and if China went to war their army would stop each day for 3 hours of lunch and nap time (as they can't go one day without their post lunch nap) and if fighting continued during lunch you'd see tears calling out for "mommy mommy, where is my lunch?"

        November 27, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • FM

      True that. Big loss of face.

      November 27, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  13. Mikado

    No panic, China is not gonna hurt us.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:34 am | Reply
  14. Astyanax

    China's getting a bit big for their britches.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:48 am | Reply
  15. Ed Wong

    hi all, get used to it! will only be more. new world order is in a making. for China, we just return once we were. nothing more.

    November 27, 2013 at 6:56 am | Reply
  16. Jesse

    Most people commenting have no idea what there talking about. Often throwing in outside issues to stir the pot. Every issue is different.

    November 27, 2013 at 7:34 am | Reply
    • Jesse


      November 27, 2013 at 7:35 am | Reply
      • Dkom


        November 27, 2013 at 8:09 am |
      • Rascal262


        November 27, 2013 at 8:34 am |
      • Sharpy

        Where? :O)

        November 28, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • vatoloke

      "They're". Or "they are" if not familiar with contractions.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:37 am | Reply
  17. jeng

    Yes, China surprise USA respond is so mild, lol.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • gstranyord

      The Chinese have no innovation and only enslave their people and burn them out by making cheap crap. Look how their people live: polluted air, water, soil, low wages, no say in their future...they have already lost.

      November 27, 2013 at 8:40 am | Reply
      • Funny

        And the US have evil people like yourself. God hate you, and why God hate America for being evil

        November 27, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • mejerk

        Amen to that. China is and always will be a slave to the Western world...it has been that way for centuries.

        November 27, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
      • Keith

        That is not true.

        November 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  18. Heine

    J_a_p_a_n_e_s_e should not mingle there and not have any businesses outside their island – die gelbe Gefahr – should be stopped.

    November 27, 2013 at 9:43 am | Reply
  19. Really?

    Soo many racist, ignorant, arrogant and war mongering crazies on here. It seems the US is rotten on the inside when any military action made by the government's seen as good. Blind patriotism fueled by sino phobia. When aggressive actions like this are supported by the people.... Looks like one more reason for the American world regime to fall, for the safety of the world.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
    • fastvue

      What do you expect from CNN ?

      November 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • Travelinglight

      Last week an ornery man living in the biggest house on the block, and whose property was adjacent to a public park and playground, posted signs all around stating the park and playground were pard of his yard and anyone who wanted to play in it would have to let him know. The next day the usual users showed up and enjoyed the park and laughed at the signs, after having removed them and having made paper airplanes out of them. The third day the foolish man posted a sign on his yard that he knew the people were there and had mocked his original posting. He then declared that he had allowed them to play in the park as evidence of his good will. Again, all the people laughed.

      November 28, 2013 at 12:13 am | Reply
    • daronda daronda

      aggressive actions like what? china is the one that took aggressive action to establish this adiz.

      November 28, 2013 at 2:10 am | Reply
  20. Taka Kalienov

    We need to realize that we can not control how strong a country becomes. All we can do is get even stronger and be ready for anything. But why is there a need for innocent people to die? We all populate this world together, I believe that we should care for each other as if we are all family.

    November 27, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply
    • Keith

      agree. If any war breaks within superpower, nobody can survive. I think US is miscalculated this time, why we need be involved?

      November 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  21. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    During the 1950s, most USA citizens understood the formation of contractions like "they're." Today, many USA citizens do not know what a contraction is.
    That big change has far more relevance to the price of tea in China than most USA citizens realize.

    November 27, 2013 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Max

      My gosh, what a silly comment, grammar nazi.

      November 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  22. william bana

    Lets just take everything out of China. We can always send the new world leader to run that country, right Mr. Obama?

    November 27, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  23. Michael ID

    Americans really do not know the world....

    November 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Reply
    • jianfei

      lets see...

      November 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  24. fastvue

    Yeh shoot itself in the foot ! Just like Obama's "red line" thing, did he send a thank you card to the Russian ?

    November 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  25. Alton Jean Nuel

    I Know were to find a oldnevy store but i dot no if inside that store have a camoufligh. boost make me a better with this phone thanks this great service. i will check them back.what happened to Arizona he never see the Camophie was sieged mongoly when i looking for sindy from somebody else i see the big hun was almust its not a problem because Angola was Ocupie by three bodyguad.and i read The backueletienne book this morning i know how you feel whon you see me when i doing what i was doing, please don't care for i will ask you for a great service "keep yourself very safe for mf"why because i need you my friend.tuely for the news you read they doesn't from to the source directly it is a politics affer don't care for what you listen or read just try to know who am I okay, your book is perfect i just bring some critic about what you said tou your friend.In Rm 3:23 said noone is not perfect all of the are sin and hangry the grace of God.whatever some of them is not reconize that right.but you do the best bd .

    November 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  26. mejerk

    When you need to buy a snuggie or a shake weight...who you gunna call??? CHINA!!!!!!

    When you need to win wars and have your hands on high quality/high tech gear...who you gunna call??? USA!!!!!

    November 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  27. JDavis

    Imperial China at it again. They seized Tibet and they are still trying to bring Taiwan into the fold. This time, I think it's just a little flexing of muscle and national pride. There is a belief in China, that all Asian countries, are breakaway territories of their old empire. They do think they are justified in bringing everyone back into the fold and that is the part that worries me.

    November 27, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  28. Jay C

    It's amazing how many ignorant people are commenting on this article. Really surprised that in 2013 civilized people are still talking about starting wars and killing each other. We have achieved the status of the world's top superpower. We have hundreds of bases all over the world. We have killed the most people out of any country and we continue to bully others. When is imperialism going to end? When will the common people stop suffering at the expense of their governments?

    November 27, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • jianfei

      get real boy, this is the world we live in. stop fantasizing of utopia.

      November 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Reply
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