When Vice President Joe Biden travels to China, Japan and South Korea next week, it’s hard to see how he can avoid discussion of the newest cause of tensions in the region — China’s creation of a so-called Air Defense Identification Zone over a chain of small islands in the East China Sea claimed by both China and Japan.
China declared the zone on Nov. 23, and said that aircraft flying through the zone must submit advance flight plans to Chinese authorities and follow their instructions or face possible “defensive emergency measures.”
At a time when the U.S. wants to strengthen relations with both Japan and China, the zone creates an unwelcome new headache. The worst-case scenario is that the dispute might lead to military confrontation if China tries to enforce compliance with its rules for the zone.
Japan’s two biggest air carriers, ANA Holdings and Japan Airlines, quickly began notifying China of flights traveling through the zone. But Japanese government officials told the airlines to stop and the airlines agreed. Japan, along with Taiwan and South Korea, refuses to recognize the zone .
Immediately after the zone was announce on Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that the U.S. military won’t change operations to comply with the Chinese-declared zone. “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.” On Tuesday, the Pentagon flew two unarmed B-52s through the zone without informing China in advance, claiming the flights were a previously planned exercise.
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This op-ed was first published at Defense One on Nov. 27, 2013
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons