US Warns China Against a South China Sea ADIZ
Image Credit: U.S. State Department

US Warns China Against a South China Sea ADIZ

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On Tuesday, the U.S. rapped China on its actions in the South China Sea, and implored it not to seek to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area.

In a joint press conference with the Philippine Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated America’s opposition to Beijing’s new East China Sea ADIZ, and warned it against creating new ADIZs in places like the South China Sea.

“Today, I raised our deep concerns about China’s announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. I told the foreign secretary that the United States does not recognize that zone and does not accept it. The zone should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea,” Kerry said during the press conference.

Last month, China surprised the region by announcing an ADIZ in the East China Sea, a move that has been widely criticized by regional powers and the United States. Although most attention has focused on the immediate issue of the new ADIZ, there has also been a lingering concern over Chinese leaders repeatedly pledging to establish additional ADIZs in the future. Although these Chinese officials have not specified what areas such ADIZs might cover, most analysts see the South China Sea as the area most logically place to create a new ADIZ.

China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea under its nine-dotted-lines sovereignty claim. This sweeping claim to sovereignty puts China at odds with numerous other states with claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.

Of these other claimants, China has been especially at odds with the Philippines in recent years over the territorial dispute. In the spring of 2012, Chinese maritime agencies used a dispute involving a Chinese fisherman in the Scarborough Shoal to wrest control over the area from the Philippines. It has also been seeking to push the Philippines out of the Second Thomas Shoal. More generally, China’s Coast Guard and Navy have significantly increased their patrols and military maneuvers in the disputed waters, aided in part by the establishment of a division-level military garrison in Sansha City.

Besides warning China against creating an ADIZ in the South China, Kerry also offered a broader criticism of China’s actions in the areas. Much of this was criticism was implicit, though the target of it was undeniable. Thus, the secretary of State reaffirmed that the United States “strongly support[s] ASEAN’s efforts with China to move quickly to conclude a code of conduct as a key to reducing the risk of accidents or miscalculation.” Although Beijing has in theory endorsed discussing a joint Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, it has largely stonewalled efforts to begin negotiations. At the same time, it has continued to strongly encourage discussing the territorial disputes on a bilateral basis, where Beijing’s clout over its smaller neighbors will be greatest.

Kerry also implicitly criticized China on the basis of its claims of sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea. “We think that claimants have a responsibility to clarify their claims and to align their claims with international law.” This comment was undoubtedly aimed at Beijing, which bases its claims on ancient maps that are not generally recognized as conferring sovereignty under international law.

Finally, Kerry stated that “We support internationally recognized dispute resolution mechanisms such as those that are provided in the Law of the Sea Convention. The United States strongly opposes the use of intimidation, coercion, or aggression to advance territorial claims.” The first part of this statement seemed to be implicitly endorsing the Philippines’ efforts to have an international arbitrator decide its territorial dispute with China. Beijing has refused to acknowledge a third party’s jurisdiction over the case, and has not shown up to any of the hearings. The second part of Kerry’s statement again seemed to implicitly indict China for using increased maritime patrols to intimidate and coerce its weaker neighbors.

Kerry is currently in the Philippines as part of an almost week long trip to Southeast Asia that also included a stop in Vietnam. While in Vietnam earlier this week, Kerry announced that the U.S. was increasing its maritime security aid to Southeast Asian nations. The move was largely interpreted as aimed at strengthening the ability of regional powers to enforce their sovereignty claims against an increasingly assertive China.

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