Feature

China: Staking a claim to the air and the sea

China has declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that includes a set of islands claimed by Japan.

China will not back down, said Wang Xiangwei in the South China Morning Post. The U.S. and Japan are squawking about the country’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea, requiring any foreign aircraft entering the space to identify itself to Chinese authorities or risk military action. They take umbrage at the reach of the zone, which includes the Diaoyu Islands, Chinese territory that Japan claims and calls the Senkaku. But their complaints will not sway Beijing. The air defense declaration is part of President Xi Jinping’s “new and more assertive diplomatic initiatives” that are intended “to counter the U.S.’s policy of aligning with Asia” as well as “Japan’s increasingly aggressive stance over the sovereignty of the islands.”

China is playing a long game, said Xie Chao in the Global Times (China). It has every right to declare an air zone, just as every other major power in the region has done. For decades now, China has been surrounded by a chain of foreign air defense ID zones “enforced by the U.S. and its allies.” Whenever our planes patrol the Diaoyu Islands, we are “deluged by Japanese reports” of fighter planes scrambled in response. In the short term, setting up our own zone will enable us to do the same to Japan when Japanese patrols fly over the disputed islands. That’s only fair. Longer term, though, the point of creating this new zone is to start “dealing with the U.S. using its own methods.” This isn’t really about the islands, it’s about prestige. China intends to be a great power, and it has to start acting like one. “If others can do this to China, China can do this to others.”

But China has gone far beyond what others have done, said the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an editorial. When most countries set up an air defense ID zone, they consult their neighbors first, map the zone carefully so it won’t overlap with existing zones, and require compliance only from aircraft actually on route to the country, not just passing through a part of the zone. “China failed in all three aspects.” This is belligerent behavior, and it’s very worrying. Even more worrying is America’s apparent backpedaling on its opposition to the Chinese zone: The U.S. initially said it would not recognize the Chinese claim, but this week it told passenger planes traveling in the area to comply with Chinese authorities. We “call on the United States to stay true to its allies.”

The U.S. will have to be clear, said Brahma Chellaney in The Japan Times, because China is being cagey. It is swallowing up Asia bit by bit and couching its aggression as defense. The strategy is to claim that a certain territory was always Chinese and then, over the years, send military hardware there in order to negotiate from strength. It has already effectively seized the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines and is nibbling at the Spratly Islands, not to mention India’s border and certain Japanese and South Korean islands. “What is ours is ours, the Chinese invariably claim, and what is yours is negotiable.” Who will stop them?

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