Asia territorial tensions set to get worse before they get better
November 28th, 2013
07:18 PM ET

Asia territorial tensions set to get worse before they get better

By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, and an adjunct fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.

China’s more assertive posture in regional territorial disputes took a new turn at the weekend with its decision to implement an Air Defense Identification Zone. At a time when tensions in the region are already high due to a lingering territorial dispute between China and Japan, China’s action has escalated tensions in the East China Sea. Now, with Beijing apparently demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy with its neighbors, the region is forced to confront provocative and potentially destabilizing behavior.

On November 23, China’s defense ministry unilaterally announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. According to the new rules for conduct in this ADIZ, any aircraft flying into China’s ADIZ is required to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain two-way radio communication, and keep radar transponders turned on. Should a plane refuse to follow these instructions, China’s military will “adopt defensive measures.”

ADIZs are, by themselves, not controversial, acting as early-warning perimeters for self-defense. But while there are no international rules concerning their size or establishment, China’s action is provocative for two reasons. First, it may be attempting to set new rules for aircraft flying above waters considered a state’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Second, it chose to establish an ADIZ that overlaps considerably with those of both Japan and Taiwan as well as a sliver of South Korea’s. Provocatively, included in China’s ADIZ are territorial disputes it maintains with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) and with South Korea over Ieodo (Suyan Rock in Chinese).

Under current U.S. and Japanese practice, ADIZ procedures are not applied to foreign aircraft if they do not intend to enter their territorial airspace. China’s move sets the stage for a dangerous situation, however, if a plane flies through a portion of its ADIZ (not intending to enter territorial airspace) and refuses to follow China’s unique protocols. This is particularly worrisome with respect to Japan – under China’s new rules, Chinese planes could be scrambled to confront Japanese planes flying in the overlapped portion of the ADIZ, which could result in an accidental collision. In the worst case scenario, a situation could arise where an order by either country is given to adopt defensive measures against what they see as intruding planes. Think of the 2001 EP-3 incident, when a Chinese fighter collided with a U.S. surveillance plane, resulting in the death of the Chinese pilot. If that happened with a Japanese plane today, Beijing would be pressured to take aggressive action to placate the virulent Chinese nationalism that is sure to erupt.

Representatives from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan quickly expressed strong concern about China’s attempt to alter the status quo and destabilize the region. And, quick to demonstrate their refusal to be cowed by China, the United States and Japan continued scheduled exercises in the area of the Senkaku Islands. Indeed, to underscore its commitment to the status quo, the United States on Tuesday sent two B-52s directly through China’s ADIZ, refusing to follow China’s new rules.

More from GPS: Why Asia is arguing over its islands

China’s decision to establish the ADIZ demonstrates both recklessness and misunderstanding. It is reckless in that Beijing is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo via intimidation. Such behavior is escalatory and only increases tensions between neighbors and drastically reduces trust with the United States. At the same time, China’s behavior demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both statesmanship and the commitment by the United States and its allies to uphold international norms.

China has a right to seek changes to existing rules that guide state behavior, but not through intimidation. The U.S. and China’s neighbors understand that China is rising and have worked to engage China through various dialogues that strengthen China’s voice in international affairs and benefit China’s global presence. Yet, China should not mistake their engagement for weakness. The United States and its allies stand resolute to defend the rules and norms that have underwritten peace and security for decades, upon which the prosperity of the region was built and continues to grow. Brute attempts at change will always be forcefully resisted.

Unfortunately, this problem will probably get worse before it improves. Although China’s ADIZ does not cover the South China Sea, where it is ensnarled in multiple territorial disputes, China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said that China will establish additional zones after all necessary preparations are completed. This raises worries over new provocations. Should China decide to extend another expansive ADIZ in the South China Sea, backed by its threat to adopt defensive measures, this would overlap multiple ADIZs, thereby throwing down the gauntlet to all states on its periphery.

A paradox exists in that China’s behavior is both understandable and yet puzzling. China is in many ways blinded by a mixture of victimization and self-confidence that lead it to demand changes, believing its time has come after having suffered so long under the hand of foreign oppressors. At the same time, how it chooses to do so defies logic. At a time when U.S. leadership is working to build strategic trust with China, the Korean leadership is pursuing closer ties with China as part of a trustpolitk campaign and Taiwan’s leadership is maintaining a positive relationship with Beijing, China chooses to act in a way that in one broad stroke erases much of the goodwill that has been built. And at a time when Japanese leadership remains highly critical of China and is strengthening partnerships with countries similarly challenged by China, Beijing’s act further steels Tokyo’s opposition and sends a frightening message to others in the region.

China’s leadership appears to see its neighbors as conspiring to stop China’s rise. The U.S. rebalance to the region and Japan’s changing security policies are interpreted as provocative actions directed against Beijing. As such, China believes it must counterbalance these efforts. What Beijing fails to see is that efforts like those by the United States and Japan are in fact reactions against Chinese behavior. China’s more assertive posture in recent years has spooked the region, and its unilateral efforts to change international norms are viewed as part of this revanchism.

The reality is that China is not the victim, but very much part of the problem.

Post by:
Topics: Asia • China • Japan • Military • United States

soundoff (77 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    So very true! China is NOT the victim! Im so sick of hearing all the political posturing going on! Like a bunch of brats...who has the biggest and baddest toys! And if you don't do what i WANT, im gonna take my toys and go home! Sheesh, already! Give it up!

    November 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Good post, chrissy. Does anyone here know how WW1 got started or even read their history books? Those who had, would realize just how stupid these senseless maneuvers are! In fact, ignorance is the one biggest problem that this country faces today because war is just not another sporting event as a lot of ignorant people believe, but a tragedy waiting to happen!

      November 29, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Noah

      Not sure if it is a good analogy, but how should one feel if someone tortured and killed almost your entire family but then never really apologized, were worshiped as heros, and still possessed part of your property line. They try to start clean but the bad blood is just swept under the carpet not being addressed. That probably sums up how they feel.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
  2. rightospeak

    The censors removed my comments because I stated that China can drop $3 T dollars on the world 's market and do us harm. We need to stop stupid games.The Koreas need to unite and all our troops need to return home or we face civil unrest in the US. The writing is on the wall.

    November 28, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, rightospeak. I totally agree. Unfortunately, our posts here tend to offend a lot of right-wing fanatics!

      November 29, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • banasy©

        JM, is your username an intentional jab at those right-wing fanatics? Because nobody in recent history was more right-wing or fanatical that old Joe.

        If so, well done.

        November 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • sean

        Where are you seeing, Offended Right wing fanatics? And who is in power? Who was in power and gave China MFN status and Gave China access to US debt?

        Your comment is misinformation.

        November 30, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Joe

      If China dumped their T-bills, they would do themselves more harm than anybody. A better move would be for the US to say all T-bills held by China are void.

      November 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
      • Brian Dee

        Wars are very expensive. Not to mention the casualty of lives, but it is financially expensive as well. If China winds up dragging us into a war that we didn't want, then we should bill them for what we owe them to fund this war, that we didn't want, but they forced upon us, and then credit the same amount that we owe them to our debit to them. BOOM. We have a zero balance.

        December 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • CWJ

      1. China is most reluctant to take a loss on its holdings of US TBills, and dumping them in a few tranches would seriously affect their earnings. Plus, where can they get a better deal?
      2. The real motivation is Chinese domestic politics. Two items: the Chinese hard right and the PLA were the biggest losers in the 3rd Plenum held two weeks ago. They are fighting back to improve their political position and to try to refocus the people's anger externally, as the Chinese people are increasingly ticked off at their deteriorating conditions and the way the authorities steal their land.
      3. The PRC is still a Marxist-Leninist state that will say and do anything it pleases. They are fierce liars.

      November 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @CWJ, Well, if the PRC is a Marxist-Leninist state, doesn't that mean that everything they do is right, good, and true? I mean, they work with folk's lives, and they are United. God bless 'em!

        November 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • sundara0000

      Running from a bully never works. As far as the Koreas go, south Korea doesn't want to be a part of the crazy north, why should they have to be. It would be nice if the world was all rainbows but its not. Thats not crazy right wing's reality.

      November 30, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Greg

      We will deal with social imperialist china and the new Tojo, ji xinping, along with China's neighbors, who refuse to be vassal states to China's new co-prosperity sphere. Like Germany in the 1930s, a new Hitler has appeared. And like hitler, he will be vanquished.

      November 30, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • Greg

        Sorry folks, I never posted that stupid comment above. Someone appears to be trying to make me look like a feeble minded jerk. For the record, the only true "Hitlers" here are the ones in Washington D.C. who are trying to prove their military superiority over China. All this ignorant China bashing is starting to get old in a hurry!

        November 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
      • banasy©

        Do you imagine you're the only Greg in the world?

        November 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
      • Greg

        Here is another Greg! Hello, World of Greg.

        November 30, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
      • banasy©

        Lol. Hi, Greg!

        December 1, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Wayne Rizor

      If China drops 3T in US currency on the market, the US can tell corporate America the game is over, find another source for your goods. It would kill their economic engine in its tracks.

      December 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  3. rightospeak

    I also stated that China used the US market as a dumping ground for their products. Just go to any mall and read the labels . The censors did not like it . But hopefully this will pass.

    November 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  4. rightospeak

    I also stated , before my comments were removed , that instead of endless wars we need to try peace and good will towards all men for a change. We can not afford any other way.

    November 28, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • tom sugarland

      I agree that we don't need any moe war, but can any body trust the Chinese communist government?

      November 30, 2013 at 8:30 am |
      • Greg

        A more important question here tom sugarland, is that can anyone truly trust the right-wing politicians in Washington since they are all on the payroll of the all powerful M.I.C.? Either way, we need to diffuse this situation right away. The only people who want another senseless war are those who stand to make money out of it and the truly ignorant!!!!!!!

        November 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
      • banasy©

        Oh, you changed your username fro JM to Greg. Okay, I see now.

        November 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  5. chrissy

    Amen to your 8:58 post @ Rightospeak! I don't think we will see it in our lifetime but is certainly worth praying for!

    November 28, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    @rightospeak: I enjoy your writing; I regret its being denied to us.
    I don't think your 8:58 phrase, "try peace and good will towards all men," and its seasonal connotations will play as well in China as in the USA. Remember that when the Chinese fully understood the ramifications of our missionaries' gospel presentations, the Christmas story ceased to be told in that material land.

    November 29, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • rightospeak

      We've had endless wars , Joey, and peace is worth trying. Only fools that had never seen war try to play heroes and warmonger.

      December 1, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  7. chrissy

    Hey @ Joey, hope you had a perfectly marvelous day! And you have to admit, rightospeaks idea is worth hoping for correct?

    November 29, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I do not think that China's action regarding these islands is the result of a "fundamental misunderstanding" of statesmanship. China is now like a high-school football player who realizes that his biceps have grown to 18" and chooses to wear a shortsleeved shirt to school during the winter.

    November 29, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • mun

      There is nothing wrong with wearing shortsleeved shirt.

      What is wrong is going to a pajama party uninvinted and threatening to shoot everyone if they don't leave.
      And then rationalize your actions by arguing that there is nothing wrong with wearing a short-sleveed shirt and that people shouldn't judge your character by what you wear.

      November 29, 2013 at 12:34 am |
    • mun

      If one does not like noisy overnight pajama parties, the best way is to call your neighbor.
      There is no poing wearing a short-sleeved shirt, opening your bedroom window and while holding a riffle, shout "I am not weak!"

      November 29, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  9. 100 % Innocent Eth

    Who will benefit on these mess?

    Jewish stole the American secret Weapon, Nuclear components from the Manhattan project, and muscled China.

    November 29, 2013 at 1:14 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      @100 % Innocent Eth certainly speaks his or her mind. I'm surprised that comment made the board and stayed there.
      100 %, you know everybody else would have gotten the Bomb anyway.
      I don't like traitors, whatever their flavor is.

      November 29, 2013 at 6:39 am |
  10. ✠ RZ ✠

    If this is what results from China wanting to impose a "call me maybe" fly zone off it's coast, I can't imagine what might have happened if the roles were reversed and China had done what we did to Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, etc.

    November 29, 2013 at 1:39 am |
  11. j. von hettlingen

    No doubt it was debatable whether China could unilaterally implement a new ADIZ without consulting first its neighbours. That the US dispatched a pair of B52 bombers to fly over the disputed island chain in the East China Sea to defy Beijing was also a rash action. Both China and Ja pan should sort out their territorial dispute in a civilised manner. The US should not interfere, unless Ja pan is being invaded. China sees the region as its backyard, yet it could have been more subtle in its ways of dealing with the neighbours.

    November 29, 2013 at 6:49 am |
    • Maersk

      Dickkhead, the two B52s did not fly through the zone, they were flying two hundred kilometers outside of the zone. Your uncle would tell you a different story of course and dickkheads like you would believe.

      November 30, 2013 at 4:52 am |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I think that the B52 bombers were just a reminder that China should mind its manners, as long as the planes didn't drop anything while touring the area.

    November 29, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Those B52s are beautiful: both graceful and powerful.

      November 29, 2013 at 8:09 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Such is to be expected from someone like you with your obvious limitations, Joey. "B-52's beautiful"? Only a complete moron would utter such nonsense! B-52's exist for one purpose only and that is to butcher people on the ground!

        November 29, 2013 at 11:52 am |
      • banasy©

        Oh, I don't think JIF has any of your so-called limitations, JM.
        One can find beauty in even the deadliest objects, although I think contempt is very, very ugly.

        November 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • Maersk

        Dickkheads like you must not have seen the B52 wreakage, the ones that were shot down in Vietnam. Dickkheads like you must not have known that the Chinese shot down five U2s in China in the sixties because your uncle did not tell you.

        November 30, 2013 at 4:56 am |
  13. Joseph

    Most importantly, US military should not go to war because of *j-a-p-a-n-e-s-e-, korean or chinese interests*. USA needs to be accountable to the NATO alliance.

    November 29, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      No. The USA needs to be accountable to the USA.

      November 30, 2013 at 1:00 am |
      • Joseph

        No, as USA is one member in the NATO alliance.

        November 30, 2013 at 7:40 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Only as far as one item of the USA's interests, NATO, is concerned.
        Ultimately, the USA is accountable to itself for its survival.
        I regret many bad decisions made in the USA during the last fifty years. Actually, the decline in our general culture and mindset began early in the 1900s with the first whiffs of Marxism.

        November 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  14. Pliny

    The Chinese are amateaurs at international relations. If not that...then they are just very very bad at it.

    And this is NOT 'Chinas backyard'. There are too many nations that are in close proximity to each other in this region. Look at a map and see for yourself.

    November 29, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Total2199

      China is a 5000-year old nation. So, who is an amateur in international relations? Besides, it is a largest player in the region and had every right to establish ADIZ making an order in its backyard. Do not like it, get over it!

      November 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
      • vincet

        right on.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  15. mike flynn

    Foreign oppressors were out of china by 1945. get over it. Clinton bombed china's embassy in begrade (no mistake) and sent an aircraft carrier throught the taiwan strait. Time for USA to rattle the sabre once again.

    November 29, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well put, mike. Thank you.

      November 29, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  16. Evenstar

    The effusion of blood is imminent!

    November 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Reall?

    It seems that both CNN writers and commentator don't know what an ADIZ is. Let me enlighten you, not a private air space, air crafts just have id themselves. J.a.p.a.n had one since the 1960s and is bordering Chinese, Korean and Russia air spaces.

    November 29, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • banasy©

      You don't think it's just a little strange that China just suddenly declared this new ADIZ?

      November 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
      • ✠RZ✠

        The suddenly is obviously being glorified by the media and goaded along by warmongers. But maybe at least China learned something from 911. In an age where commercial jetliners are hijacked by suicidal extremists and used as missiles, I would certainly want to know the who, what, where and why of every jet that might even come remotely close to my county's perimeters. And any refusal to cooperate would rightfully imply that the pilot might either be a terrorist or a blithering idiot.

        November 29, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
      • banasy©

        Well, yes, that goes without saying...but is it every countries right to just arbitrarily make up new rules concerning islands whose territory is still disputed?

        That being said, sooo tired of wardrums constantly being beaten.

        November 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  18. vishay

    ADIZ by its standard definition is not an issue. it is simply to ID aircraft intending to fly through territorial zones. china's ADIZ is different though, it wants to ID aircraft, civilian or military, within a self declared EEZ (not territorial), and whether the aircraft is intending to enter territorial zones or not. it also threatens to act in 'defensive emergency measures' if any foreign aircraft does not comply with their rules.

    worse it also covers disputed areas.

    November 29, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  19. vishay

    simply put, it declares the entire area as integral part of their sovereignty

    November 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  20. KEVIN

    It's going to get better pretty quickly

    November 30, 2013 at 1:42 am |
  21. Benedict

    Their saying "we're the big boys on the block and we can take what we like!!!". Gotta tell them Chinese that it will only lead to conflict on the Asian continent; a situation they seem to condone elsewhere!!!.

    November 30, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  22. T

    China is probably correct in the assessment that regardless how its neighbors band together, it is the US administration that has been fatally weakened and increasingly following a Chamberlainian defeatist foreign policy that seeks to maintain peace no matter the cost. So instead of instructing all international airlines to disobey the zone and provide force escorts to allied civilian planes with instruction to return fire if fired upon first, they were told to accede to Chinese demand for safety reasons, which is exactly what Chinese air force generals expected. It lends legitimacy to Chinese position and make it much more difficult for US government to maintain the status quo. The end result will be another AZID in South China sea followed by annexation of all disputed islands a couple of years down the road, in a way similar to Nazi annexing the Ruhl industrial district and then Austria without a single shot fired. If the world chose to delay implementing a red line against China until later it would cost a lot more lives than that of a few pilots.

    November 30, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      "The U.S. is now following the Chamberlain appeasement policy"? Hardly, T! If anything, we have become very confrontational through our own arrogance and self righteousness with regards to China. Someone like Russia or India needs to step up and diffuse this dangerous situation right away before the right-wingers in Washington drag us into another one of their senseless wars! This warmongering gets awfully old.

      November 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  23. Vietnamese American

    Violence has been the communists' preferred measure to get their way. As long as the communists still rule China, I expect things will get worse and worse. The only way to stop China is a stern rejection by the world of China's imperialistic ambition of grabbing territories that belong to others by force and intimidation.

    November 30, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      You seem to forget Vietnamese American, that China is no longer a truly Communist State. Since the 1970' and 80's it has evolved away from that and is now more or less of a Socialist one. Besides, as in your own country, it's we Americans who are the true bullies here through our own arrogance and self righteousness! Like George H.W. Bush promised in his 1988 Presidential campaign to deliver a "kinder, gentler America", he did the exact opposite after he got in!

      November 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  24. Kevin

    ........China.... wants...... revenge ......

    November 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  25. No china

    In the global community, extremely sweet China which should do it very strictly will create such a state crises to not only which the East Asia but also the world for China which is a madman

    November 30, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  26. William Nguyen

    The rise of China will never be peaceful. The free trade with China is not free. The cheap products made in China are not cheapest. China will continue its policy of expansionism of stealing lands as throughout its 5000 thousand years of cruelty and cheating. The world must unite to confront China while it is being led by a group of cruel madmen. What a good citizen of the world should do to keep the world stable, peaceful and prosperous is not buying anything made in China.

    November 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  27. Flora Farrell

    Whoever owns the space, owns the land below it. It's just simple as that. That's my view about this interesting article.

    November 30, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • banasy©

      Who owns the land below it? That seems to be the crux of the issue.

      November 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  28. KEVIN

    It will be resolved this week.

    December 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  29. HereInTheUSA

    While our politicians have been bickering for years like idiotic fools, China has been crushing the USA in a war that we don't even know we're in and without even firing a shot.

    Bringing manufacturing back home to the USA is going to end up being not only a key to restoring our economy, but to maintaining our national security as well.

    * Chinese firms and state agencies have been implicated in a host of hacking attacks, on targets ranging from leading industrial and technology firms, to the Pentagon and other US government agencies, to the New York Times, Coca-Cola and numerous other companies and industries.

    * Oct 2012: The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said U.S. telecommunications operators should not be allowed do business with China's top network equipment makers because potential Chinese state influence on the companies poses a security threat.

    * Also most counterfeit goods are produced and manufactured in China, making it the counterfeit capital of the world. In fact, the counterfeiting industry accounts for 8% of China's GDP.

    * Foreign Lobbyists here in the US promote sending US jobs to countries like China, where they work for slave wages, no benefits, no OSHA safety standards or no real environment regulations. It also doesn't help us compete when these company's factories are subsidized by China's communist government. Just check out the current Chinese extreme pollution issues – We all live in the same world, but not every country plays by the same rules.

    Over the past 2-3 decades, both parties have sold out the bulk of the American citizens, who they're supposed to represent, by allowing the incursion of illegal aliens (cheap labor) and the "out-sourcing" floodgates to open wider and wider without taking any sensible measures to stem the tide.

    Our leaders are elected by the Citizens of the United States of America to represent the interests of those citizens and the country itself. – They are NOT elected by the Global Market Place or foreign citizens!

    That whole frigging shortsighted Wall Street mentality from the 1980's to the present has been what has destroyed the real American economy and the future of the American people.

    This just shows us another reason why "Our Government" has to starting protecting and restoring domestic industry and the jobs that those industries provide. If they do that, the rest will take care of itself.

    We may have to pay a bit more for products made here in the USA by US citizens, but at least we'll still have jobs and a future for our children.

    December 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
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