Wednesday, November 27, 2013

ADIZzy in the East China Sea

Mildly interesting activity off the east coast of the People's Republic of China this week.

First, the PRC announced the creation of an expended "Air Defense Identification Zone" that covers a fairly large portion of the west side of the Pacific that lies between the PRC to the west, Taiwan (ROC) to the south, Japan to the northeast, and the Republic of Korea to the north:

Note the gray area; that's the overlap between the western edge of Japan's own claimed ADIZ (the black line on the left side of the gray area) and the east edge of the PRC's new ADIZ.

Why is this important?

Well, and ADIZ is, in effect, a milder form of "territorial waters", an assertion of sovereignty. The FAA defines it, in part, as "an area of airspace over land or water in which the ready identification, location, and control of civil aircraft is required in the interest of national security." The PRC is insisting that it has the right to enforce the ADIZ regulations, which include
"...flight plans, as well as radio and logo identification, of all aircraft operating in the zone. The state-run news agency, Xinhua, said if an aircraft did not supply its flight plan, “China’s armed forces will adopt emergency defensive measures.”" (NYT, 11/26/13)
.The United States responded by sending a pair of B-52 bombers through the ADIZ without doing so. The message to the PRC couldn't have been clearer; bite me, PRC, we consider this area international waters and don't recognize your effing ADIZ.

Analysis of this action here, here, and here. I think "This means woah!"? No.

But it is an intriguing bit of geopolitical gamesmanship from the PRC, for two reasons:

1. The territory involved includes the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and seems to be a likely part of a stepped-up assertion of sovereignty over those ocean rocks, during a period when the issue has become increasingly contentious, and

2. The way the Chinese claiming their new ADIZ rules work. Typically these zones affect aircraft en route to the polity claiming the ADIZ; that's how the U.S. zones work:

But the Chinese are saying that their ADIZ applies to ALL aircraft transiting this zone, not just aircraft inbound for the PRC. This is actually a pretty significant reach; it would be like the United States claiming the right to query and, if not satisfied, stop or even detain any vessels transiting within it's 100-mile limit. This would have the effect, if enforced, of challenging the traditional legal standard of "innocent passage"; " long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law." (UNCLOS, Section 3(A)(19).

Why is China doing this? Why now?

Good questions. I don't know; I suspect that a LOT of people aren't sure. In some ways the PRC is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. Clearly someone is feeling cocky about the PRC's strength in the East China Sea. Who? Why? And to what purpose?

Again; all good questions and ones that it'd be nice to know the answer to.


  1. Chief-

    Just a bit of clarification. Title 14 USC (99.11) basically requires the same reporting in an ADIZ as China's claim:

    (a) No person may operate an aircraft into, within, or from a departure point within an ADIZ, unless the person files, activates, and closes a flight plan with the appropriate aeronautical facility, or is otherwise authorized by air traffic control.

    It's just that we have not been rigorously enforcing the "within" in regards to transiting aircraft, but then, see below about "flight plans". Interestingly, we generally reject a "within" for transiting (and not necessarily innocently) another nation's ADIZ by our military aircraft, and perhaps that's why the B-52s were used to 'test" the new ADIZ.

    Effectively, this is hollow saber rattling, as an ADIZ pertains primarily to commercial aircraft, and such aircraft file a flight plan which would, by the nature of the international air traffic control system, involve notifying the PRC of the intended "innocent passage". And, the accepted practice is one of "your silence is your assent". Thus, a commercial flight's flight plan is filed, and lacking a rejection by the PRC, assent is rightfully assumed. People can still take a flight from Tokyo to Taiwan without fear of being shot down or forced down and taken prisoner.

    The "nice thing" about an ADIZ is that it does lend itself to selective enforcement, which is a political goldmine. And since international politics is often much adoo about nothing, this may very well fit in this category.

    As one of our NWC profs put it, it may well fall into that group of dumb and basically symbolic political decisions introduced with the words, "Wouldn't it be neat if we were to....." and subject to no more rigorous evaluation than that it "would be neat". So, perhaps the PRC is simply claiming a symbolic "sovereignty" over this airspace and watching the world's reaction? So far the biggest "risk" it has caused is for the US to burn some jet fuel to make a symbolic rejection of the PRC claim.

    As long as it stays at the "Wouldn't it be neat..." level, life will roll on.

  2. Mainland China added one more "disputed" entry to some maps of the region, specifically aviation maps.
    That's almost nothing, and nothing has been changed much until (unless) other countries recognize it (not going to happen any time soon).

    It has been fodder for the usual suspects; fearmongers, loudmouths, warmongers, military spending hawks, arms industry lobbyists and smart ass pundits. They claimed that this was a big thing, in reflex.

  3. I just read the Japanese did the same in 2010; expand their own zone well into the one of Taiwan.
    I don't remember any Western media reaction, so my suspicion that the reaction is being carried by hawks, hypocrisy and prejudice is somewhat confirmed.

  4. Yeah, like I said in the post; this isn't such of a muchness except for 1) the PRC's claim that they will interrogate aircraft passing through - as you point out, Al, while this is technically within the bounds of the ADIZ rules pretty much nobody does it, and it's curious that the PRC would want to start now, and 2) the question of WHY the PRC did that at all, and why now.

    To me this is more interesting as a sort of PRC "inside-baseball" question; who in the Politburo decided to do this, why, and why now? Is this just a sort of careless oversight - somebody just said "y'know, it'd be nice if we had as big an ADIZ in the East China Sea as the freakin' Japs do..." (and Sven makes a good point - look at how far the western side of Japan's claimed ADIZ is..!)? Was this somebody saying "I think it's time to step up our game in the ECSa bit..."? Or was this an outright somebody saying "Let's wave our dick a little and see if we can get away with it..."?

    Not war, not a danger or war, not even hard evidence for an increased belligerence in the PRC...but somebody in Beijing seems to have some sort of notion and it'd sure be nice to know who, and what that notion is...

  5. Did a quick blog post, with a map.

  6. To all,
    I find it interesting that the administration is voicing a return to diplomacy, but what do they do in this scenario?
    Send in the military to do a display of .....?
    Where's the progress?

  7. They didn't send in a CVBG and killed a pair of foreign military aircraft (yet). That was Reagan's style (Gulf of Syrte) and what McCain would have done (he would even have re-routed the fleet meant for Philippine relief for this purpose, I think).

  8. jim

    What else could the US do? The ADIZ has little or no real effect on civil aviation, but the US has claimed our military aircraft do not have to recognize a foreign ADIZ. Thus, a transit flight by military aircraft simply performed "innocent passage" in the ADIZ in affirmation of our long standing policy. Note that they were not of a design that could actively defend themselves against PRC interceptor aircraft. Probably the only non-fighter/interceptor airframes available that didn't have meaningful missions to perform at the time. The transport community is far too overburdened for symbolic missions. A fairly passive assertion, in military terms.

  9. I'll second Al on this, jim. A civilian airliner would be too fraught. A C-17 would have been too valuable for real missions. Any sort of air combat aircraft would look like cocking a snook. This was a fairly calibrated "Nuh-unh you don't" response.

    And looking at Sven's post over at Defence and Freedom I'd argue that rather than making me feel calmer about this it makes it look like another step in ratcheting up the competition between the Asian powers over these ridiculous little sea rocks - not so much because of China's move but because of Japan's earlier ADIZ expansion. Look at the damn thing on the map over at Sven's site - it's a worse example of dick-waving than China's, extending WAY the hell southwest of the Home Islands.

    So while I still see the PRC's ADIZ move as something-other-than-a-prelude-to-war in context it looks like another move in the confrontation over these worthless rocks (that, obviously, are just place-holders for oil reserves or fishing grounds or some other damn thing).

    Not something that I'm thrilled to see...

  10. The Ryukyus are also home islands. In Japanese they are known as the Southwest Islands. The archipelago includes over 100 islands and extends way the hell southwest of the big four down to within 100 clicks of Taiwan. Why wouldn't they have an ADIZ covering them?

    Has Japan in the past ever scrambled fighter jets any time an aircraft was intheir claimed airspace? I don't know the history. But the beef is over a bunch of rocks. Lets hope wise heads prevail.

  11. Chief-

    I doubt the new ADIZ has had any effect on civilian air traffic. Transiting an ADIZ is a routine occurrence worldwide, handled by the very nature of the air traffic control system, as I noted above.

    I would bet that few, if any US flagged airlines ever passed though that airspace to begin with, thus the only symbolic stand for the US to make was to exercise our self-proclaimed right of military transit of anyone else's ADIZ.

    The term ADIZ tends to be overblown by non-aviation people. It is neither a Restricted nor Prohibited Area, nor territorial airspace. It is an "Indentifcation Zone" requiring common and routine identification (normally just filing a flight plan) to engage in passage. Even flight personnel who may rarely deal with an ADIZ will tend to overthink it.

    I used to run into similar "overthinking" in regard to pilot's understanding of a PPR (Prior Permission Requested) airfield. Somehow, that final "R" would get twisted in "Required", which then led them to conclude that operations by transient aircraft were not allowed except under unusual circumstances. Sent the pilots to the "rule book", and to their amazement, the PPR(equested) was established simply to allow airdromes with limited facilities to properly prepare for guests.

  12. To all,
    Why or how is every problem in the world a US concern?
    Did we fight WW2 to become the guardians of Japanese and Korean interests?
    I for one am tired of everything being a problem needing US solutions.

  13. Well..."problems" that involve potential restrictions on traffic of U.S. ships or aircraft - and I tend to agree with Al and Sven that this is more symbolic than practical, but nations communicate in symbols as much as in practicalities - are U.S. concerns. That's why the U.S. has always been involved in places that represent "choke points" for international commerce; Panama, Suez, the southern capes, the Sunda Strait and the Horn of Africa. And the west Pacific littoral.

    So in this case the U.S. was acting in its own interest as well as its west Pacific allies and clients.

    Now I'm willing to entertain the argument that the U.S. should probably be LESS concerned about free access to those sorts of places; we no longer have a merchant marine to any significance and why we should want to fly the East China Sea without acknowledging anyone's ADIZ seems a bit beyond what we need to our "national security"...but I'm also willing to accept that there's an argument the other way, too.

    So I guess the bottom line is that if you want the U.S. out of other people's business you should be arguing for a pre-1865 U.S., the U.S. of Franklin Pierce. A large and powerful nation will almost always tend to meddle in the affairs of others. We may dislike it, but it's hard to deny.

  14. Chief,
    Facts bearing on this problem.
    -we have a UN to resolve such issues.
    -If the US is gonna rattle sabers then we must be willing to unsheath that saber and start slashing. Only an idiot would argue such a course of action.
    -We have no theater level Army capability any more but we will pretend that we can influence Chinese policy. We could not possibly fight them so why is there rhetoric in major NY papers asking if there'll be a war?
    -I'm ok with an America first pre 1898 attitude. It sure beats endless wars and rumors of war all to hell.
    -Where would we get the money and physical assets to push this moment to a crisis?
    Let's keep in mind that we couldn't influence squat in AFGH/Irq/and Afgh on the rebound, but we think we can tweak the Chinese with bells and whistles and empty words?
    My point is why do we all, to include milpub just jump on board with all events that support US exceptionalism.
    Some problems are just not our business.
    My hometown of Cleveland Oh is a hell hole and my place of residence is a poverty pit and somehow i just can't care about arbitrary lines drawn on a map.
    jim hruska

  15. jim: "Let's keep in mind that we couldn't influence squat in AFGH/Irq/and Afgh on the rebound, but we think we can tweak the Chinese with bells and whistles and empty words?"

    Self delusion is often less frightening than reality.

    My hometown of Cleveland Oh is a hell hole and my place of residence is a poverty pit and somehow i just can't care about arbitrary lines drawn on a map.

    Sadly, far too many Americans do not see things this way, jim.

  16. As Detroit goes bankrupt, China builds whole new cities, and the world’s most technologically sophisticated military loses two wars against impoverished goat herders. No wonder that, according to the recent Pew poll, 52% of Americans say the U.S. should “mind its own business.”

  17. I'll buy your arguments, jim, with the caveat that Rome had it's slums, too. I wish that human beings were sensible, calm, and rational. They're often not, and so I don't find it surprising that our country is farkling about in Asia while our inner cities are decaying. We have powerful political and commercial interests in Asia (and here's a piece that argues that what appears to be "saber-rattling" in this case was actually less provocative and LESS likely to push this whole business of squabbling over sea-rocks closer to war than the opposite - that tend to push the U.S. towards engagement abroad.

    Cleveland? Who the hell gives a shit about Cleveland? Nothin' there but Americans that the Job Creators abandoned long ago and everyone from the state legislature to the U.S. Congress was too busy touting 401Ks and subprime mortgages to to bother worrying about where their jobs had gone...

    Kidding aside, this nation is rich enough to fuck around in Asia AND help Ohio and Florida create living-wage jobs and decent communities. The fact that we don't bother with the latter has, I think, less to do with resources than priorities.

    Remember the old saying "A unit only does well what the commander inspects?" Well, the "commanders" - the people who have power and influence in state capitals and D.C. "inspect" our foreign policy, for good or ill. But when was the last time you heard anyone - politician, economicst, CEO - talk about "jobs" and "wages" other than to piss and moan about how fat-cat Americans aren't willing to live 15 to a room and live on ramen noodles like those hard-working Asians and Hispanics? When was the last time you heard anyone of those types fretting about whether Joe and Mary Lunchpail were making a living opposed to whether XYZ Corporation was getting a big enough tax break to keep it's union-free plant or it's megastore there in Cornhole County?

    So "mind our own business"? ISTM that we've had a hell of a long time to mind the business of places like Cleveland and Cornhole County, and we seem to be indifferent to why those places are becoming what the are.

  18. Chief,
    So what are you saying?
    Should we start a war with China over a friction that is centuries old?