Air defence zone a 'lose-lose' for Beijing?

Air defence zone a 'lose-lose' for Beijing?

China's creation of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is quickly turning out to be a no-win situation for Beijing.

On the one hand, it has become a diplomatic disaster for China. On the other, it could either provoke a military crisis - the blame for which would lie entirely with Beijing - or else turn out to be a toothless gesture highlighting the country's feebleness as a regional great power.

China announced its new East China Sea ADIZ on Nov 23. It extends out more than 500km from the country's coastline and cuts a wide swathe through the East China Sea. China's ADIZ overlaps with similar air defence identification zones established by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

In particular, it includes the disputed islets - known by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, and by China as the Diaoyu - which are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

It is critical to note that an ADIZ is not a territorial claim. National airspace extends out only 12 nautical miles over open water, the same as a country's territorial waters. ADIZs are intended to provide a country with early notification, location and control of foreign civilian aircraft entering national airspace.

ADIZs are also not new; more than 20 countries have created such zones around them. The United States established one of the first such zones in the early 1950s, and in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, it also created a special ADIZ around Washington, DC. Japan also established a national ADIZ - including around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands - back in the late 1960s.

Moreover, most ADIZs are unilaterally declared. They have no basis in international law, but are usually adhered to by other nations.

Nevertheless, China's new ADIZ seems purposely constructed so as to be contentious. In the first place, it overlaps with similar air defence identification zones established by three Asian neighbours, as well as the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. This appears to be almost a deliberately provocative (and unnecessary) move.

Just as controversial, however, is that it requires all civilian aircraft entering the ADIZ to identify themselves, even if they are only passing through the zone and have no intention of entering Chinese national airspace; no other ADIZ requires this kind of notification.

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