Monday, November 25, 2013

China ADIZ: You Furnish the Hysterics, We’ll Furnish the Heightened Tensions

That guidance (to paraphrase Hearst’s famous admonition to Frederic Remington on the occasion of the Spanish-American War, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war,”) pretty much sums up the interaction of the government of Japan and the Western media on the matter of the Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ.

I’m not going to engage in Fisking by bulk here, but Western outlets have unanimously spun the Chinese ADIZ as some reckless stunt to challenge Japan over the Senkaku airspace.


Basically, as I describe in an article for Asia Times Online, China's Defense Zone Creates a Flap, the Chinese ADIZ does tweak Japan on the matter of the Senkakus by extending the southeast corner of the envelope to cover the islands.

 However, the ADIZ covers all of the East China Sea between Japan and the PRC.  It is not an assertion of sovereignty.  It creates a zone in which unidentified aircraft are required to identify themselves to Chinese authorities.  It’s an early warning system meant to provide time cushion in an era of high speed warplanes.

America has an ADIZ. 

For aviation enthusiasts, here is a very interesting and somewhat technical description provided by the FAA on enforcement of the USADIZ.  

Spoiler: in principle, if not depth of detail, the implementation looks pretty much like the Chinese ADIZ—except it’s stricter, requires prefiling a flight plan, and specifies a rather onerous-looking tolerance of plus/minus 5 minutes and 20 nautical miles for deviations from the plan.

Guess what.  Japan also has an ADIZ.

The Chinese ADIZ directly parallels and overlaps the Japanese ADIZ—a fact that has escaped most of the press in its vaporings over the issue.  (From Taylor Fravel's tweet: yellow line = Chinese ADIZ; red line = Japanese ADIZ; red field = overlap.)

So, if properly implemented and respected by both sides, the Chinese ADIZ is stabilizing, not destabilizing.

Abe told a parliamentary session that China's declaration of the zone above the islands (known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) altered the state of affairs in the East China Sea and escalated a tense situation.

"The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace," Abe said during an upper house session. "It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well."

I’m assuming Abe’s refusal to accept the Chinese ADIZ draws strength from US concerns about the PRC move voiced by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry.   In contrast to previous PRC-Japan jostling, the United States has clearly lined up with Japan and also went the extra mile to reaffirm that the mutual defense treaty covers the Senkakus.

The DoD statement reads:

"The United States is deeply concerned by the People's Republic of China announcement today that it is establishing an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea.  We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region. This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.

"This announcement by the People's Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.

"The United States is conveying these concerns to China through diplomatic and military channels, and we are in close consultation with our allies and partners in the region, including Japan.

"We remain steadfast in our commitments to our allies and partners.   The United States reaffirms its longstanding policy that Article V of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands."

In my personal opinion, the US statement is not relating to China’s declaration of an ADIZ (after all, both the United States and Japan have them) but in the fact that the PRC declared the ADIZ unilaterally and, in its ambiguous wording of the regulations, conveyed the implication that US warplanes in the zone might be expected to obey the instructions of whoever was enforcing the Chinese ADIZ.

If the US military has one absolute imperative in East Asia, it is its ability to sail where it wants and fly where it wants subject to some extremely limited and carefully parsed limits imposed by international law (for instance, by a judicious exploitation of loopholes in the Law of the Sea Treaty—which the US hasn’t even ratified—the US Navy has openly repudiated Chinese objections and affirmed the right to conduct military surveillance detrimental to the PRC’s national security within the PRC’s Exclusive Economic Zone). 

As for aircraft, the most famous incident relating to the PRC, of course, was the collision of a Chinese fighter jet with a US EP-3 surveillance plane over China’s EEZ off Hainan Island in April 2001.  Despite vociferous complaints by the PRC, the U.S. took an effective and convincing stand that it had the right to continue the surveillance flights.

Based on a quick survey of the literature, US armed forces assert the right to fly through any international airspace without restriction.  However, as a concession to the anxieties of other governments about unidentified aircraft near their borders, at least in the case of Peru, I did find that the US encouraged Peru to check the flight plans on file and approach the planes, rather gingerly I expect, to confirm their markings.  In other words, no radio chatter, no transponder stuff.

If the United States is going to initiate AirSea Battle, in other words, it isn’t going to tip its hand when it enters the Chinese ADIZ, or help out Chinese air defense by turning on its transponders. 

The PRC is not going to be able to challenge that freedom just by publishing some regulations.

Despite the US decision to tilt toward Japan on the ADIZ issue, I expect that this story will join the platter of mislabeled China-threat nothingburgers heaped up by the media, including but not limited to the “PRC Coast Guard regs allow China to stop ships transiting the South China Sea” canard and the “China claims Okinawa” BS.


Unknown said...

the key difference between the u.s. and the chinese adiz is: the u.s. requires filing for crafts intending to enter u.s. territorial airspace. (see the first item on the u.s. document); whereas china requires all craft entering its adiz (not territorial airspace) to file. in that respect, china's rules are more like australia's.

Craig said...

US B-52 bomber flies into ADIZ in direct defiance of new air space rules.

Dumb. Stupid stunt by the US military here. This was not a little turbo-prop surveillance craft crossing into the ADIZ either. The B-52 bomber was selected to send a chilling message to Beijing. Wow...just wow.

Unknown said...

The U.S., however, doesn't have any ADIZ that overlap with other countries, as far as I can tell. Which leads me to believe we negotiated them all with our neighbors and set them up jointly in a responsible manner.

The overlap here is what causes a problem, it seems to me, as both nations will now be "allowed" to send fighters to intercept planes that are not in compliance with their respective regulations.

This could clearly lead to fighters of the two nations intercepting one another, something that has not as yet happened, and a clear escalation that could put lives in danger :/

Fake Volleyballer said...

@Theodore Ritz:

The USADIZ overlaps with Canada's and Russia's up in Alaska.

The declaration of an ADIZ is in itself an unilateral act. As international law permits any country to intercept any aircraft in international airspace. No downing of aircraft is allowed though.

It is also worthwhile to mention that the Japanese ADIZ is huge and way bigger than China's and have been in place for decades. All the news stories we have seen about "Japan scrambles F-15" against either China or Russia have actually occurred in international airspace that Japan has claimed as its ADIZ. The actual ADIZ itself has also been increased several times in the past, drawing sharp rebukes from their neighbors.

denk said...

uncle sham n *responsible* is an oxymoron.
the muricuns arrogate themselves the *right* to impose an adiz wherever they happen to squat. in 1988 they shot down an iranian airliner accused of *violating* their adiz in international water....the destroyer captain got an congressional medal for that piece of *gallantry* , wtf !

*This could clearly lead to fighters of the two nations intercepting one another, something that has not as yet happened, and a clear escalation that could put lives in danger * [sic]

china's *escalation* ! where did i hear that one before, nyt, wsj, cnn, guardian ?
if u still dont get it might as well stick with those paragons of *journalism*, no point hanging around alternative sites anyway.

to paraphrase good ole charley reese [rip]
+What's good for Honest Abe is good for Honest xi, right?*

who started this shit anyway ?
[hint] for answer, u cant skip the article itself !

denk said...

im referring to Theodore Ritz

denk said...

[hint] for answer, u can skip the article itself !!1

Carl Spalletta said...



This is closer to the usage employed by the natives themselves.

See, for example, President of the U.S. "Merkin Muffley" in Stanley Kubrick's film "Dr Strangelove"

Carl Spalletta said...



This is closer to the usage employed by the natives themselves.

See, for example, section 2.1 of

denk said...


tks for the info. !