Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA Dec13-Jan14 Contents 4 DefenceReviewAsia | DEC-JAN 2014
The Chinese decision to further escalate tensions
in north Asia with an expanded Air Defence
Identification Zone ADIZ) seems to be part
of a broader strategy of assertiveness to test
the reactions of a number of regional players -- most
importantly the US. So far the behavior of everyone has
been predictable, with the countries most directly involved
taking strong positions objecting to the move by Beijing.
However, the position of the US now seems slightly
more nuanced than the initial reaction, with their
commercial airlines instructed to comply with the new
Chinese regulations so that an incident does not take
place by accident. This is a form of reluctant acceptance
that the Chinese are unlikely to back down and that
everyone is just going to have to live with the new reality
-- though whether other Governments instruct their
commercial airlines to also file flight plans in advance as
required by Beijing is yet to be seen.
A messy situation has been complicated by the
Republic of Korea's retaliatory decision to also expand its
ADIZ to cover territory also claimed by China. Actually,
"territory" is a misnomer because the two countries
disagree about the ownership of an undersea rock known
by Korea as Ieodo and by China as Suyan. This squabble
is not as well known as that between China and Japan
regarding the Senkaku / Doiyo islands or between Korea
and Japan over the Dokdo / Takeshima outcrops -- but the
basic features are all the same.
An interesting feature of the Korean declaration has
been the response of China -- which has taken the move
calmly and has so far not even given an official response.
This is very much in contrast to the near-hysteria of the
Japanese reaction to the earlier Chinese move, and might
indicate that Beijing does not wish to look hypocritical --
after all, having kicked off this round of ADIZ expansion
they can hardly be critical when other nations do exactly
the same thing.
This is all just a reminder of a large number of territorial
dispute flashpoints in Asia that have the potential to
generate conflicts if not handled in a calm manner.
Unfortunately this is not the case for Senkaku / Daiyo,
which remains probably the most serious of the unresolved
claims -- though the Sprately Islands in the South China
Sea comes a fairly close second. This is because the
mutual distaste China and Japan feel for each other is
of considerable depth, exists for serious reasons and is
frequently exploited by nationalists in each camp when it
The view from Beijing is that Japan was not sufficiently
punished for past behavior -- particularly invading China
and carrying out various atrocities for more than a decade
prior to 1945. In turn, Japan is in collective denial because
the education system air-brushes out any detailed
information about the country's wartime record and most
people are genuinely unaware of the brutality with which
their military behaved. The tensions over a couple of rocky
outcrops of questionable economic value are in fact a
metaphor for something deeper and far more serious.
As we have observed previously, the situation between
China and Japan could escalate instantly into some form
of conflict if even one shot is fired in anger. The two sides
have completely mutually exclusive positions -- a stubborn
refusal to see any merit in the other's claim. Both sides are
heavily armed and growing stronger -- though China at a
much faster rate. Japan is now also picking up the pace of
equipment acquisition, though for the foreseeable future
looks to be dependent on the United States in the event of
a serious conflict.
At the moment, the two militaries are of comparable
size -- though China of course has an enormous standing
army. Up until a few years ago the Japanese Maritime
Self Defence force was the more modern of the two,
arguably better trained and with more major surface
combatants -- much with US equipment such as 'Aegis'.
This situation has now altered and China is producing
large numbers of frigates and destroyers equipped with
phased array radars and capable offensive and defensive
missiles. Just how well these systems will work in an
actual conflict rather than a training exercise is the
subject of conjecture.
It has always been assumed that in the event of a major
conflict Japan would have the support of the US and could
count on the massive firepower of the USN's Pacific Fleet.
While China might soon be in a position to take on an
unaided Japan in a worst-case scenario, it will be decades
before it could have any realistic hope of defeating a
combined force. However, there must be some people in
Washington starting to wonder if it really would be worth
a major conflict with China over the ownership of probably
worthless - and certainly obscure -- uninhabited rocks.
The US has lost thousands of lives and spent billions
of dollars during the last decade, particularly in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Maybe the reluctant acceptance of the reality
of the new Chinese ADIZ is an indication that everyone
has to come to terms with a more assertive China -- and
that includes Japan. Ù
CHINA'S EXPANDED AIR DEFENCE
ZONE Kym Bergmann / SINGAPORE
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