Tag Archives: ADIZ

American Strategy is Exacerbating Sino-Japanese Tensions

Tensions are rising in the West Pacific, damaging ties between the world’s three largest economies. Several recent developments highlight the mounting pressures: China’s creation of an Air Defense Identification Zone over disputed islands, a naval incident between China’s new aircraft carrier and an American vessel, and the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to a controversial shrine. 

In light of these incidents, it is crucial to examine the role America plays in the region. Instead of alleviating tensions in the East China Sea, current American strategy may be adding to the friction – and indirectly solidifying the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on political power.

In late 2011 Hillary Clinton announced a U.S “pivot” to Asia, promising to “lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.” 

“Otherwise” was a reference to military deployments. As part of this strategy, the U.S Navy plans to deploy 60% of its fleet in the Pacific. This military repositioning is almost certainly aimed at containing China – 60% of the largest, most technologically advanced fleet in world history seems excessive for countering a half-starving North Korea.

Since the announcement of the U.S pivot to Asia, regional tensions have increased dramatically. In September 2012, the Japanese government announced plans to “nationalize” the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which are disputed territory between China and Japan.  This move set off the latest round of detonation in ties between Tokyo and Beijing. 

Escalations continued in November 2013 when Beijing announced the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. The airspace over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands was included in this zone. 

Another troubling incident was a recent standoff between China’s first aircraft carrier and the USS Cowpens. The USS Cowpens was physically blocked from approaching the Chinese aircraft carrier in international waters, in a move US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called “unhelpful” and “irresponsible”.

Finally, just a few weeks after the naval standoff, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine – a Shinto temple where the spirits of Japanese military men, including several convicted war criminals – are venerated. In response to this visit, China’s foreign ministry said: “Abe miscalculates regarding Sino-Japanese relations, making mistakes again and again. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where class A war criminals are enshrined… these war criminals were the planners of Japan’s war of militarist aggression… They are Fascists, the Nazis of Asia.”

In order to have a better understanding of Chinese (and Korean) anger over Abe’s Yasukuni visit, it is worth exploring the shrine’s viewpoint on Japan’s wartime actions. Regarding the Nanjing Massacre, a museum attached to the shrine teaches visitors: “The Japanese established a safety zone for Chinese civilians and made a special effort to protect historical and cultural sites. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace.” 

Troubled Ties

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yuktio Hatoyama recently warned “Japan-China relations now face their grimmest situation since the two countries normalized their diplomatic ties in 1972.”

America’s regional stance may have emboldened Japanese nationalists to take a more provocative stance against China. The “nationalization” of the disputed islands and the visit of the Yasukuni Shrine were likely deliberate attempts to gain support by ratcheting up tensions with China.

Partially as a result of recent developments, 92.8% of Chinese now have an unfavorable view of Japan – a dramatic increase of 28% in one year.

American regional strategy has alienated not only Chinese leaders, but also the Chinese public. Chinese confidence in President Obama has plummeted from a high of 62% in 2009 to just 31% in 2013.

Not all of this shift in opinion can be attributed to Chinese state-controlled media and education. American regional military posture and support of Japan would likely be unpopular in China regardless of Beijing’s political system.

 It’s worth noting that after Japan’s tragic earthquake in 2011, hundreds of Americans took to social media to say the earthquake was a form of “payback” for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One can imagine how Americans would view react to Abe’ Yasukuni visit if Japanese forces had killed over 20 million Americans during a brutal eight-year invasion of the American mainland that involved systematic sexual slavery and the use of biological weapons.

Beijing’s Strategy

Territorial disputes between China and its Asian neighbors have become more intense in the last several years. Supporters of America’s increasing military footprint in East Asia argue that the American presence helps to deter Chinese territorial ambitions, and helps to keep the region safe.

However, this assertion is based on a dangerous misreading of Beijing’s political strategy. First, any war would be against the interests of China’s leaders. The Communist Party of China has been able to maintain its control of the country largely through delivering economic growth, and China’s economy is hugely dependent on international trade. China does more international trade than any other country in the world, and China remains Japan’s number one trading partner even in the midst of their escalating political tensions.

So why did Beijing establish the ADIZ over disputed maritime territories? Part of the reason is strategic. China is making efforts to claim more of the West Pacific as its exclusive zone of influence. They seek to push American military assets further away from China’s shores – just as the U.S would do if Chinese aircraft carriers sailed two hundred miles off the coast of Los Angeles, or routinely patrolled the Gulf of Mexico.

However, the domestic political situation is the main driving force behind Beijing’s recent moves. China’s leaders knew America and Japan would react strongly against their ADIZ. This was a purposeful move. Xi Jinping has only been in power for a year, and he wants to demonstrate his nationalist credentials against China’s rivals.

By vocally supporting Tokyo in the territorial dispute, and by positioning more military forces in the region, the U.S is actually playing into Xi’s plan to boost Chinese nationalism. America’s proactive regional stance helps to distract Chinese people from the pressing domestic issues of pollution, censorship, and corruption.

All sides know that war is against everyone’s best interests. Nevertheless, the words and actions and words of Chinese, Japanese, and American leaders will have real consequences, both regionally and at home.


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“American hawkishness is against its own interests”

Interestingly enough, Global Times left out the part where I specifically cite the American B52 bombers that tested China’s ADIZ. 

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December 22, 2013 · 11:46 am

Biden avoids publicly discussing China’s ADIZ in Beijing

Vice President Biden has not publicly discussed China’s recently-established Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) during his trip to Beijing. While in Tokyo, Biden was more stringent, calling the ADIZ an effort to “unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea”, and warning, “This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation.”

However, once in China Biden’s tone became rather conciliatory. Talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping focused on areas of mutual interest, although important disagreements were brought up. Biden said “Candor generates trust” and Sino-American relations should be “based on trust and a positive notion of each other’s motives”. Vice President Biden also met with American journalists in Beijing, were he stressed the need for freedom of information:

“Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences…We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists.”

In recent months several prominent American journalists have lost their legal rights to report from China. Biden’s call for people to “breathe freely” has somewhat humorous undertones, given the severe air pollution of Beijing.

Meanwhile, official Chinese media coverage of Biden’s visit is somewhat contradictory. A piece in People’s Daily says Biden and Xi had frank talks about disagreements over the ADIZ, while another article is entitled “Why Didn’t Biden Challenge Xi Jinping?”

Also of note: just before Biden’s visit, a spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry made a lengthy clarification of the new ADIZ, saying  it “will not affect the freedom of overflight, based on international laws, of other countries’ aircraft”. Along with these reassuring words was a rather confident assertion of power to regional rivals and the United States: “The Chinese military’s determination and volition to safeguard the security of national territory and territorial airspace are unwavering, and the military is fully capable of exercising effective control over the East China Sea ADIZ.

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Beijing’s Cairo Declaration

Beijing has used the 70th anniversary of the Cairo Declaration to reiterate its territorial claims over the Diaoyu Islands – and Taiwan.

The Cairo Declaration – jointly made on December 1, 1943 by wartime allies Churchill, Roosevelt, and Nationalist China’s Chiang Kai-shek – stated, in part:

“The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed.”

China’s ambassador to Egypt has stressed that the document assures Beijing’s sovereignty over all territories seized by Japan before and during World War Two. Furthermore, a symposium has held in Beijing’s Anti-Japanese War Memorial to discuss the Cairo Declaration and its implications.

The front page of People’s Daily carried an article entitled, simply enough, “Cairo Declaration proves the Diaoyu Islands belong to China”.  

Also of note, the leader of the “Other China” – the Republic of China in Taiwan – mirrored Beijing by hosting the Cairo Declaration 70th Anniversary Exhibition and International Symposium” yesterday in Taipei. President Ma called the defeat of Japan the most important historical event for the Chinese people.

The twin symposiums demonstrate an interesting parallel in both Taiwan and Mainland China. While Taipei and Beijing remain rivals in many respects, they can be united over nationalistic feelings – especially against Japan.

Beijing has long used arguments based on international law to advance its claims over Taiwan and the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands. See, for example, Li makes his Potsdam Declaration. These legal arguments are important, especially since they are now coupled with strategic and military moves. China’s recently-announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covers the Diaoyu Islands, which are currently controlled by Japan.



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