China's ADIZ: Taiwan's Dilemma
Image Credit: wikimedia commons

China's ADIZ: Taiwan's Dilemma


Like other countries in Northeast Asia, Taiwan reacted with alarm to Beijing’s November 23 announcement that it had established, and would enforce, an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that extends into the East China Sea and incorporates the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets. However, Taipei’s precarious situation vis-à-vis China, with which it is seeking to improve relations, seems to have constrained the administration’s ability to react appropriately to China’s unexpected move.

Soon after Beijing announced the creation of the extended ADIZ, Chuck Hagel, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, countered by calling the move “a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region” and a “unilateral action [that] increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also weighed in, referring to the move as a “dangerous act.” On November 26 Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the Chinese ambassador to convey Canberra’s concerns. Germany said the move “raised the risk of an armed incident between China and Japan.”

Beyond the angry rhetoric, the U.S. sent two unaccompanied B-52 bombers on a “routine” flight through China’s ADIZ, while civilian airlines from Japan and South Korea have announced that they will not comply with Beijing’s ADIZ regulations by providing flight plans for transit through the zone.

Given the fact that the extended ADIZ, which overlaps with existing ADIZs already established by Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, is as much an escalation of Beijing’s territorial dispute with Japan as a means to protect China’s airspace, it is understandable that Tokyo and Washington would deny the legitimacy of China’s latest move. Though a case can be made that Japan’s own extension of its ADIZ in 2010 constituted a similar effort, it is difficult to argue that Beijing’s move, occurring when it did, does not fuel instability within the region and increase the risks of accidents, if not armed conflict. Beijing’s attempt to use international law to create facts on the ground is a source of instability, and in the present case, it is one that needlessly puts civilian lives at risk.

As one of the claimants in the Senkaku/Diaoyutai dispute and one of the countries directly affected by the new ADIZ rules, Taiwan is as entitled as the U.S., Japan and South Korea to express its discontent. Beyond the zone’s encroachment upon parts of Taiwan’s claimed sovereignty, about 100 flights daily by Taiwanese civilian transporters must now provide flight charts to the Chinese military under the new measures. Moreover, Taiwanese citizens traveling within the region are now subject to the increased risks of miscalculation that stem from China’s enforcement of the extended ADIZ.

But Taipei’s reaction has been surprisingly mild. President Ma Ying-jeou has stated that China’s ADIZ has nothing to do with Taiwan’s territory or airspace, and seems more concerned about the impact of Beijing’s gambit on his legacy as the mind behind the East China Sea peace initiative. For its part, the Presidential Office has stated reservations in a subdued manner, with vague claims of its intent to “defend its sovereignty.”

Although the ADIZ controversy has little to do with Taiwan, the crisis forces Taipei to walk a tightrope, if not to choose which camp it belongs in. By immediately acquiescing to Beijing’s ADIZ regulations, Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration legitimized China’s move, which is understandable from the standpoint of ensuring air safety. However, if it doesn’t want to be seen as siding with China, Taipei will have to do something — and vague platitudes are insufficient.

But what can a country that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with China, let alone a representative office, do to express its discontent? Taipei cannot summon the Chinese ambassador, as there isn’t one. And furthermore, its policy is driven largely by the Ma administration’s efforts to improve relations with Beijing, a process that was initiated in 2008 and which has arguably yielded some positive results.

What Taipei can do is take a stand on matters that are of larger import than the immediate issue of improving cross-strait ties. Regional stability and the safety of Taiwanese air travelers certainly come to mind. For that to happen, though, Taipei would have to take the initiative on cross-strait liberalization, which it hasn’t done to date, having played a mostly reactive role in the bilateral dialogue.

The best way Taipei can achieve this is by introducing costs to Chinese misbehavior or moves, such as the ADIZ, that exacerbate tensions in the region. One area where Taiwan has leverage on China is cross-strait exchanges and agreements, which, while theoretically beneficial to both, are regarded by Beijing as stepping stones to the ultimate goal of “reunification.” In retaliation for Chinese moves that contribute to instability, Taiwan could, for one, slow down the pace of engagement, or it could deny entry to senior Chinese officials in charge of cross-strait affairs.

Interestingly, the ADIZ incident occurs as Chen Deming, the chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), is on his first visit to Taiwan as head of a delegation. With no Chinese officials permanently based in Taiwan (this could change soon with the proposed establishment of representative offices), Chen’s presence in the country offers a great opportunity for Taiwan to state its positions. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the agency in charge of exchanges with China, or even the Presidential Office could summon Chen for questioning, or at a minimum ask him to bring a démarche back to Beijing. More controversially, Taipei could cut Chen’s visit short and force him and his delegation to leave Taiwan earlier than scheduled.

Already, Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party has called for a strong response to China, which includes scrapping Chen’s visit. Given the stakes, this is an area where both the DPP and Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) should, in principle, agree.

President Ma, who has invested substantial political capital in his East China Sea peace initiative, ostensibly wants Taiwan to be treated as an equal participant in regional security. If it wants to achieve this goal, Taiwan will have to develop enough backbone to stand up to China when the latter adopts policies that increase tensions in the region. Conversely, inaction risks being perceived as tacit approval of China’s gradual efforts to create facts on the ground.

December 1, 2013 at 06:35

A map of Taiwan’s ADIZ would be helpful. Also whether international discussions preceded it. The best thing for stability is for all countries to respect everyone’s ADIZs, so no one will be taken by surprise.

But the US wants to continue its military patrols without informing any body – how can this possibly create stability?

November 30, 2013 at 08:43

This article is too naive and shortsighted. It forgets that all Taiwanese are Chinese too and they are brothers and sisters. They will defend together toward outside aggression first and only argue internally then after.

November 30, 2013 at 21:33

Your comment is naive and ignorant. The Chinese and Taiwanese are hardly “brothers and sisters”. Sure, as people they certainly get along most the times. However when it comes to politics, there is nothing peaceful about their relations. There is only tension.

December 1, 2013 at 02:23

I’d recommend you study some history, my friend.

November 29, 2013 at 23:59

So Chinese neighbors have the right to set up ADIZ right up to Chinese territory but the Chinese don’t? Japan unilaterally extended its ADIZ in 2010, and it is the Chinese that is the provocateur now for setting one? The west on one hand said supporting the one China policy, and on the other hand keep encouraging the Taiwanese to challenge China while the Taiwanese themselves don’t want to do exactly that. And the west wonder why China want to change the status quo. Keep pushing China into corner and I hope the west, I mean America and the rest of its lap dogs are ready to face the Chinese people’s wrath in the near future. It will be the end for all of us, and I hope we can all be at peace in hell.

John Nickels
November 29, 2013 at 12:50

Read up on ADIZ and make a fair and objective opinion. Once you have understood what is ADIZ, you will hate the mainstream media and politicians for shaping the general opinion.

November 29, 2013 at 12:37

Typical US propaganda aimed at inciting conflicts in the region. Would the author say the same about standing up to Japan’s and America’s ADIZ’s?? Not even the slightest attempt at fairness and justice.

November 29, 2013 at 02:25

Stay out of it. When the ‘bullet’ ain’t aiming at you, don’t get in the middle and become a bullet stopper.

November 29, 2013 at 01:26

Today on 28.11.2013, the China PLA Air Force patrols the newly created ADIZ with the KJ-2000 Early Warning Plane, Su-30 & J-11 fighters. See link below from the web site of the China Ministry of National Defense (sorry only in Chinese language):-


This is strictly cosmetic
November 29, 2013 at 10:42

This is strictly cosmetic after China was embarrassed when the B-52′s flue over the ADIZ undetected by the PLA and finding out about it in Yahoo. China will not risk a war at this time, the ADIZ is probably a “wag the dog” attempt to hide the discontent in the country trying to fuel patriotism among the radicals hoping the people will start another Japan business bashing in China and forget about the corruption and problems in the CCP.

November 29, 2013 at 12:32

[ after China was embarrassed when the B-52′s flue over the ADIZ undetected by the PLA ]

the PLA did detect it. either way the point is missed, what China is really testing is US and Japan willingness to accept international norm, if US stupidly challenges China ADIZ, then i ask you, how can US whine when China start challenging Japan’s ADIZ?

imo, the goal was never to establish the ADIZ, it is to test US willingness to preserve international norm to which US had failed by overreacting, and thus giving China the initiative to challenge Japan ADIZ.

John Nickels
November 29, 2013 at 13:42

If China was embarrassed, then the US should be embarrassed when Russian bombers crossed into US ADIZmore than 40 times this year. Interestingly, there is no news on the mainstream media. Thats international politics my friend.

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