A South China Sea ADIZ: China’s Next Move
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A South China Sea ADIZ: China’s Next Move


I hate making predictions. Truthfully, I am the type of person who likes to go to casinos for the latest sporting events or concerts and would never throw my money away in a slot machine or on the blackjack table. However, I can guarantee Vegas would lose its shirt on this bet, an easy wager to make: Look for China in the next year to eighteen months to declare an ADIZ over the South China Sea — in fact, Beijing’s ambassador to the Philippines appears to have alluded to such a move. Heck, I will even take it a step further and bet the wife and dog on this one:  Beijing will create such a zone in the Yellow Sea as well at some point in the near future.

Why am I making such a prediction? Two recent factors come into play that in my view give China the rationale along with the ample cover they need to make such a move.

First, Washington appears to have given Beijing the green light to go forward — albeit unintentionally it seems

Various reports based off a Kyodo news agency article have suggested a senior official traveling with Vice President Joseph Biden to Asia explained that “Washington is also asking China not to set up an air defense zone in the South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in territorial rows with Southeast Asian nations, without first consulting countries concerned.”

So let me see if I have this correct: It would be OK if China crafted an ADIZ in the South China Sea as long as it tells its neighbors in some fashion, in advance? Considering Beijing has already made a veiled reference that it could set up additional ADIZ in the future, the timing of such a comment was ill advised at best.

Honestly, I am hoping the official was misunderstood or misspoke because if accurate, Beijing could use such wording to openly declare such a new ADIZ in the South China Sea — an area with sovereignty disputes involving multiple claimants. In fact, Beijing has already gone so far to claim 80 percent of the area, effectively taking control of Scarborough Shoal last summer, which is well within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and is pressing its claims now on Second Thomas Shoal. China has also deployed its new aircraft carrier to the region in what could be seen as a show of force (although, let’s be frank, the carrier won’t be operational for sometime, however, the point is still made).

Second, when America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave guidance that U.S. domestic carriers should inform Beijing of their flight plans, Washington not only gave de facto approval of the East China Sea ADIZ, but also suggested that future moves would not be met with strong resistance. Truth be told, the Obama Administration was in a tight bind on the decision — not giving the information to Beijing could have put such flights and American lives in danger, and no one wants to see an accident turn into a crisis that won’t be easy to untangle considering the stakes. Yet, any move that gives this ADIZ declaration on China’s part any legitimacy will certainly be used by Beijing as a sign of acceptance. If we got away with it once, why not try the same move again and again?

As I explained in a piece for the Washington Times recently, creating an ADIZ, an area that is essentially an early-warning buffer zone for possible intrusions into a nation’s airspace, is not aggressive. It is the arc of Chinese actions dating back to 2006 onward that should worry the international community. Looked upon as a whole, the trend is truly concerning.  No one is saying Beijing does not have the right as a great power and possible someday a superpower to shape the international stage in a way that is friendly to its own national interest. It is the optics of how it is going about doing it that frightens its neighbors. For all of China’s worries about being contained by the U.S. “pivot” to Asia, China is doing a great job of aligning its neighbors against its actions — effectively containing itself and giving credence to the growing narrative as Asia’s new regional bully. Bad move Beijing.

Pol Velasquez
January 12, 2014 at 18:45

The American should establish bases in the Philippines and Vietnam to counter this irrational claim of China over jurisdiction of the whole China sea.

December 12, 2013 at 20:30

So, the last is that the US and Canada, along with Australia have all advised their airlines to submit flight plans to China overt the East Sea. And S Korea has followed suit. Japan just announced today that it would give its major airlines the option to submit their flight plans over the East Sea to China.

Too bad for japan because it looks like China just won this ADIZ tussle.

Hardy Woo
January 11, 2014 at 21:58

It’s not only too bad for Japan, but really Japan is very bad and useless. It was like a Voldermort and ready to shoot the Chinese drone it said. But when the US asked their commercial carriers to submit the flight plans to Beijing, Japan is stunned like a fool and immediately retreat its assertiveness against China. So, really is very very bad and it can not do anything without the US on its side.

December 9, 2013 at 20:09

It’s time. To push the Americans and Japanese out of Chinese zones.

talking points
December 9, 2013 at 11:13

@chris and @mike, I totally disagree with both of you. It is just too costly and tiring, to have all those country in China’s orbit. China has one simple solution, get along with US, or ask UN to set up a maritime patrol on the common seas.

China has no need to push US away. US may feel that way because it is resisting China’s quest to get its islands back. Plus taiwan.

China doesnt want more than that. Can US acknowledge? Thats the bug question.

December 9, 2013 at 19:38

Why would you disagree? The US doesn’t want to concede any thing to China because that’s the logic of hegemony. It’s part of history and the US is no exception (no matter what the Americans think about their society, they are not exceptional in anyway….just another in a long line of great hegemons).

The only way for China to get anything “back” is through “hard power”. That means economic development and the focus on using resources to develop its military power to inflict overbearing cost to the US if it tries to stop China. It’s not about aggressive expansion, for China; it’s the restoration of its own near orbit, with Taiwan even more closely seen as a part of China. Any leader in Beijing who harbors illusion of American acceptance of China’s historic aspirations should be flogged in public with 50m lashes. The US will use all available means, including Taiwan (though it has failed so far), Japan and any other avalable minions, to frustrate China.

China needs to take a hard look, and plan according. But the Chinese excel in strategic long view, and so this plays right into Beijing’s strong suit. This is why the Chinese see their national rejuvenation, which began with Dr Sun in 1911 as a task for the long haul, with 2050 as the end date for China’s modernization. Soon!

Hardy Woo
January 11, 2014 at 22:04

Definitely true. China doesn’t have the DNA to be a hegemony powers like the west. China wants peace and ready to keep the world in peace. What China is doing is only to get back what it deserves, not more than that.

December 8, 2013 at 20:23

Absolutely agree. There are plenty of shooting mouths around here who don’t or can’t take the historical view to try to understand the motives behind China’s actions. It is a growing major power, and soon, whether we like it or not, it will have superpower needs. One of those needs is a one for security. It’s funny that the US is over-reacting because the zone “destabilizes” and threatens the “status quo”. But what they don’t see is that China’s revitalization is in itself a change from the status quo. Of course Chinese strength will change the status quo….did these people even finish high school? To have Biden constantly whining about “disrupting the status quo” is really worrying to me. For Pate’s sake he is supposed to be President Obama’s best guy for foreign policy!

China needs security, and the US, long used to doing whatever it wants by making its peons do its bidding, will need to pull its little minion dog (Japan) back.

December 8, 2013 at 00:06

Everyone is caught up in the legalisms and tactical lawfare… and fail to see the bigger picture. Fast growing China is extremely vulnerable because of her dependence on importing energy resources and trade routes to distant seas. Therefore China MUST have an inner security cordon where it has undisputed hegemony. This cordon will stretch through the first island chain to the Straits of Malacca. Japan will have to be separated as a treaty ally from the US and somehow Okinawa will have to change hands to the Chinese. Japan will probably become what Finland was during the Cold War-neutral… but slightly under the thumb of Moscow. Singapore must come into Beijing’s orbit… as well as the Philippines. Indonesia is a question mark… but I would assume it will also have to come into China’s orbit. Does this sound expansionist? Well… it isn’t really. Because only under this scenario does China have any hope of protecting the vital sea lanes for 1.3 billion of its citizens. And even under this scenario… protecting the energy sea lanes to the P.Gulf will be extremely difficult… even if they attain the “string of pearls” bases. China acts because it is in a weak position and must act… not because it is expansionist. We-in the west-have a choice: give China strategic depth and security OR engage in a massively costly and dangerous attempt to contain a China that cannot allow itself to be contained. Period. End of story.

December 8, 2013 at 11:30


On the other hand, China’s incredibly weak nuclear deterrence doesnt do her security needs any good…

I mean, only 60 ICBMs capable of hitting the USA, and 240 warheads that are always kept apart from their delivery vehicles? How can China expect the West to take her serious?! The entire AirSea-Battle concept that involves strikes on the Chinese mainland and against her strategic deterrence is just a direct product of China’s weakness in that regard. Compared to the AirLand-Battle of the Cold War, which only involved a defensive campaign against attacking Soviet armor forces with limited action done against Russia, ASB involves the attack of China herself.

China cannot protect her 1.3 Billion people with such a weak nuclear force.
China needs to drop her “minimum deterrence policy” once and for all and aquire enough nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles to establish MAD vis a vis the US.

Seriously. The Chinese neglect of her strategic deterrence is one of the worst blunders of the Chinese Communist Party – I’d rank it even worse than the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward, both of which “only” killed tens of millions of people, while this nuclear deterrence blunder here has the potential to kill all 1.3 billion people.

And China should never doubt that the US wont just finish her off with a nuclear holocaust whenever they feel threatened in their global hegemony, the dream of the “american century” and “full spectrum global dominance”.

China must be prepared.

December 25, 2013 at 09:39

The US is all about protecting the security and freedom of sea lanes. This is what has guaranteed the trade needs of Japan and China to date. The only circumstances where China PRC would need to worry about its ‘sea lane security’ is a war. If the war is initiated by an ASEAN country the US would work to keep sea lanes open. If the war is initiated by China PRC then a coalition would work to stop supplies to China. All China needs to do to keep its trade alive is to remain peaceful.

December 7, 2013 at 22:50

china did the right thing. because american awacs can see far inside china from that zone. now china set up adiz , america will no longer able to keep an eye on china anymore.

December 7, 2013 at 22:39

Well, China is just following the footsteps of the likes of European “explorers”, like Columbus, Cortes, Pizzaro, Da Gama, and a whole host of others who claimed “empty” spaces for their kings.

Now that the Europeans have satiated themselves with the plundered riches of their exploitation, enslavement and conquest, they now assume that China will do the same. Maybe China will, but it sure has plenty of examples to follow.

December 6, 2013 at 15:39

now that china has launched a rover up on the moon, I bet that they will claim the moon as theirs territory also.

December 6, 2013 at 04:14

I am glad that the US State Department has now backtracked on China’s ADIZ. They have finally seen the light as far as China’s right to set up its East Sea ADIZ. China should set another ADIZ in the South China Sea, and another on in the Yellow Sea. These are all close seas that directly impact China’s coastal security.

December 12, 2013 at 03:21

China for sure will try to dominate her neighboring small countries in South Pacific like Philippines vietnam and others, because of their greed intention to grab territories of other nation..but that will be the end of their evil beliefs ..THAT MIGHT IS A RIGHT!

December 5, 2013 at 21:05

A few more Wang Weis may be in order?

December 5, 2013 at 19:49

The author sounds like a China propagandist.

December 5, 2013 at 09:35

I forgot to mention….

You imply that, by setting up the ADIZ, the Chinese are making a wrong move in regards to building friends around Asia. Let’s see…aside from Vietnam and the Phillipines, both weaklings in the ASEAN, the rest of SE Asia is awash in Chinese money and investments, from the mines of Burma, to the fields of Cambodia and the plantations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Nobody is complaining about the Chinese presence because they are all benefiting from China’s growth. Then there are the “stans” in Central Asia, where Chinese influence is fast eclipsing even Russian influence. Then, there is Russia, who is, at this point, a Chinese ally. Mongolia is puny and quickly being swallowed up by Chinese economic might. North Korea? It wont survive a week without Chinese aid. So, let me see…..China’s enemy in Asia is only Japan, who is only brazen because of US support. S Korea hates Japan more than anything else, and it will not turn on China when push comes to shove just to please Japan, and SKorea knows that only through China can it ever hope to unify with their northern brothers. So why should China be worried? Just because you say so?

December 5, 2013 at 09:23

So, for the sake of friends, the Chinese should act like little weaklings and put aside its national interest and just be quiet? The US has plenty pf ADIZs, and Japan’s ADIZ came right up to the Chinese coast before the Chinese slapped it with its own ADIZ. Talk about hypocracy! If you really want the Chinese yo make the “right” move, then why not take the first step and make both the US and Japan dismantle theirs first? Be the bigger man! Go ahead!

December 6, 2013 at 02:33

Blah blah blah. We ALL know this isn’t about China merely defending itself (from so many nations in Asia which you claim are so happy about China’s investment in their countries?).

No, this is about China trying to conquer new territory. By bullying and manipulation if it can get away with it. Then if China’s stupid enough (a real possibility), it might resort to armed confrontation to further its imperialistic agenda in Asia. Of course, China will make sure to paint itself as the “victim” somehow, just like you’re doing with your plaintiff mewling about “hypocrisy” over China’s pretend “ADIZ”.

December 7, 2013 at 07:02

China’s ADIZ came after Japan extended their ADIZ last May by another 20km toward China. ALso have you look at Japan’s ADIZ? It is 5 times larger than their land territories combined. It even extended over Japan declaration of a Maritime middle line between Japan and China by a wide margin so that it is only 170km off of China’s coast. Aggressive move like that prompted China’s own ADIZ to return the favor

December 5, 2013 at 02:51

There is no limit to nonsense. The 9-dotted line is already an absurdity, so who cares about an ADIZ in the SCS?

During the Cold War, when you have to fly into a country to drop bombs, ADIZ is a military tactic to test your ennemy’s nerve (and your ennemy also used it to test your radar). Alas, today it is used as “lawfare”, “demonstration of sovereignty” or perhaps just to win the stupidity contest. China had an opportunity to show that she is above her adversaries, that Cold War tools are obsolete. Unfortunately, she chose stupidity as the name of the game.

Kurt S
December 5, 2013 at 02:50

Sounds like Beijing just starting the territorial claims since 2006. As a matter of fact, most of the territorial claims started in 1945. PLA never had a strong enough navy to enforce the claims, until now.

December 5, 2013 at 04:37

This is a fact most people do not know, or do not mention, because it does not fit the grand narrative of Chinese expansionism which is a recent thing.

In fact, there was no PLA back in 1945 nor PRC in 1947. This means the current Chinese government is only trying to defend what it inherited from the previous government, which is remaining in Taiwan and still maintaining those claims. Of course, most your guys do not care to know the facts, just follow the grand narrative that fits your notion of things.

henry winn
December 5, 2013 at 18:21

So, what was that 1945 claim? How did China introduce that claim? To whom did China present it to? Was that claim 11 dashes? or 9 dashes or 10 dashes? If such a serious, ancient history based…why has it changed so much on the wimp? Beside dashes, what did it claim? ownership of all islets, rocks, reefs, atolls…? How about the waters around them: can people travel freely? fish freely? explore oil freely? or none at all? In 1945, Vietnamese were working on some islets with weather stations, fertilizer factories, shipwrecks savaging, pearls collecting… since 1,700′s, what to do with them? How about those local Filipino, Malay, Vietnamese fishermen following the tradition of their forefathers, making a living there continuously for centuries, did China inform them that they were illegal?
Anyway, just show me that tea soaked piece of napkin with 9, 10 or 11 dashes on it and I’ll be happy.

talking points
December 5, 2013 at 01:12

It is nice to have S. Korea as a friend, but China doesn’t really need it for anything. China should just shove S. Korea to Japan’s arms. Who cares.

China should supply N. Korea with conventional weapons in exchange for halting nuclear weapon development.

December 5, 2013 at 02:35

Yeah, who cares? Another slap from Korea on China’s face. It was like ” I see you slap me. Who cares!”. What a superpower wannabe!

December 5, 2013 at 08:04

@talking points,
I thought you have more reasoning ability than that. If China doesn’t care about Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, India what would be left around China to have a good neighborhood to rise peacefully with? N. Korea, Cambodia and Kirghiztan?

December 5, 2013 at 01:02

“Beijing will create such a zone in the Yellow Sea as well at some point in the near future.”

You forgot the philippine sea.

December 5, 2013 at 01:52

Is there a Philippines Sea, Vietnam Sea, Thailand Sea and so on? If there is, it must be in the outer space, I guess.

December 5, 2013 at 08:08

You don’t have to guess that far. Just look up your history (the real one). Admiral Zhenghe recorded in his diaries that he was navigating the Giaochi Sea. Giaochi is the ancient name of (North) Vietnam. It doesn’t mean that this sea was, or is now, Vietnamese though.

December 7, 2013 at 07:07

@nirvana, Giaochi Sea is the ancient name of Canton which included part of the Vietnam. It remains Chinese even right and by Zhenghe’s time, Vietnam already known as An’Nan, not Giaochi. There is no An’Nan sea.

December 9, 2013 at 16:46

It is correct that Canton was part of Giaochi which was also a province of China.

However, the name of Giaochi was that of (an independent) Vietnam from 1407-1427, ie at the time of Zhenghe expedition. The name of An Nam (=”the pacified South”) was also the name given to Vietnam as a province of China in various periods during the Chinese domination (1000 years).

The bottom line is that navigators used names that are convenient to them. It was not the states (or the emperors) that decided on these names to assert their sovereignties.

December 5, 2013 at 03:47

China has no claims to the Philippine Sea, located east of the Philippines and part of the Pacific Ocean.

December 5, 2013 at 12:04

China should set up air defense zone in philippine sea in the future to guard against U.S. pivot.

December 7, 2013 at 07:09

Philippine didn’t abide by international law and renamed sea west of Philippine (still known as South China Sea internationally) into West Philippine Sea as part of their process to legally claim those area. West philippine sea is not recognized by UN and other countries including their ally USA.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief