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China wants a say on security matters in region
Publication Date : 06-12-2013
China's designation of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea serves both tactical and strategic motives.
Tactically, it is the logical outcome of Beijing's long-cherished intent to breach the "first island chain of defence", a string of major archipelagos off China's coast. They include the Japanese archipelago, Taiwan and the northern Philippines.
Beijing has long feared that rival powers could restrict its growth as a naval power by controlling or blocking key waterways in the area.
The United States and Japan, for instance, have frequently conducted joint military exercises in the Miyako Strait, one of the few international gateways into the Pacific Ocean for the Chinese navy.
Now, by marking its new ADIZ from the mainland coast to the Miyako Strait, China has unilaterally proclaimed a self-endowed right to patrol this area, so as to provide early warning against unfriendly aircraft.
This will greatly enhance the ease of passage of its warships to the Pacific Ocean. Military experts say that in modern warfare, any aircraft carrier would become a sitting duck without such a zone.
Strategically, the ADIZ announcement is China's attempt to assert its position as a key player in security matters in this region that is commensurate with its economic pre-eminence.
While China does not seek to edge out the American presence in the West Pacific, it wants a role for itself that commands attention from its neighbours.
Zhou Fangyin, director of the Institute of Global and Peripheral Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that the relative economic influences between China and the US have completely reversed in the last five years.
In 2006, the US was the largest trading partner of 127 countries and China of only 70. By 2011, this situation had been reversed, with China being the largest trading partner of 124 countries while the figure for the US had dwindled to 76.
This change in the balance of economic influence is particularly true of the East Asian region. Of the US allies in this region - Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia - all but the Philippines has China as their largest trading partner.
Yet, on security matters, it is still the US that calls the shots in the region. This situation is undesirable from the Chinese point of view.
China wants, through the creation of the ADIZ, to have its voice and rights on security matters heard and respected.
Clearly it has achieved this purpose, at least in the short term, judging from the reaction of the US and China's neighbours.
The US, while refusing to accede to China's demand under its ADIZ procedures to send flight paths of its military aircraft, nevertheless advised its civilian aircraft to comply.
The US Federal Aviation Administration reaffirmed its existing policy that its airlines should comply with such instructions anywhere in the world.
This gave China an opening to suggest that the US had acquiesced to its assertion of authority over the air zone. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei praised the US as displaying a "constructive attitude and cooperative will".
Japan, however, has fiercely rejected China's ADIZ. It had expected to issue a joint communique with the US during US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to Tokyo earlier this week to pressure China to scrap its ADIZ.
To its disappointment, the US refused such a joint statement and instead urged Japan to enter into talks with China to foster safety of navigation in the Chinese ADIZ, which overlaps with the Japanese one, including over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
That the US refused to issue a joint communique on the ADIZ showed that it found it difficult to apply a double standard here: condoning the Japanese ADIZ established four decades ago while rejecting the new Chinese one.
The US stand is clear: On this issue, Japan had better talk to China.
Beijing, while rejecting both Japan and South Korea's demand that it scrap the new ADIZ, has extended invitations to both countries to hold bilateral talks.
The invitation to Japan to discuss navigational safety under the ADIZ, made last week through former foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan, has been rejected by the Japanese. The invitation to Seoul last week, made by Chinese deputy chief of general staff Wang Guanzhong, is to discuss ways of promoting cooperation between their armies.
Thus by creating an ADIZ, China gains tacit US acquiescence of its right to patrol airspace far beyond its coast, and forces Japan and South Korea to turn to China on security matters.
Using the ADIZ, "China tries to establish for itself a dominant position in the security arena that matches its economic weight in the region", said Zhou.
Zhou also pointed out that this is in line with China's long-term strategic plan of creating a "Community of Shared Destinies" (CSD) with its neighbours, an idea expounded by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Oct24-25 conference on diplomatic work.
China wants its neighbours to realise that with its rise, they share a common destiny with China, not with the US, for the simple reason of geographical proximity.
During the conference, Xi instructed that one of the main directions of diplomacy in the next 10 years should be to let the CSD concept "take root in China's neighbouring countries". It was said that the decision to designate an ADIZ was made in that conference in connection with the CSD. If so, it was a strange way to start such a community.
As observers point out, an ADIZ would surely produce the opposite result, forcing China's neighbours into closer relations with the US.
In the security arena, the more assertive China is, the more it will alienate its neighbours.