A senior researcher and officer in China’s People’s Liberation Army said that establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is essential to China’s national interest.
“The establishment of another ADIZ over the South China Sea is necessary for China’s long-term national interest,” Senior Colonel Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy and frequent media commentator, said on Friday, according to a report in Reuters.
Li’s comment seemed to be slightly inconsistent with a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry back in February, which dismissed Japanese media reports that said China was preparing to establish a South China Sea ADIZ. That statement, however, seemed to leave open the possibility that China might do so in the future.
When initially announcing its East China Sea ADIZ, Chinese officials readily admitted that they intended to establish other ADIZ over other areas in the future.
Li’s remark came in the context of a discussion about remarks made by U.S. Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations at the US Pacific Fleet. As The Diplomat previously reported, at a recent U.S. Naval Institute conference Capt. Fanell said that the PLA had held a drill to practice defeating Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces in the East China Sea as a prelude to seizing the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
In that same speech (see video below) Fanell also predicted that China would establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea by 2015 at the latest. Li characterized this remark as America’s attempt to deter China from establishing a South China Sea ADIZ.
On Thursday, however, the Pentagon distanced itself from Fanell’s remarks, with Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby saying that “those were his views to express.” Kirby continued: “What I can tell you about what Secretary Hagel believes is that we all continue to believe that the peaceful prosperous rise of China is a good thing for the region, for the world. We continue to want to improve our bilateral military relations with China.” Indeed, Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno is currently in China meeting his PLA counterpart.
Li said that the Pentagon’s decision to distance itself from Fanell’s comments was a tactical move on the part of the U.S. “It’s a typical U.S. diplomatic strategy,” Li said, according to Reuters. “Washington is very concerned about the tension developing in the South China Sea, which will relate to its strategic interests.”
It’s worth noting that Rear Admiral Kirby distancing the Pentagon from Fanell’s remarks was likely referring in particular to the latter’s comments about China’s military forces training to defeat Japan’s MSDF in the East China Sea.
Fanell’s remark about China’s interest in establishing a South China Sea ADIZ was much less controversial and in fact broadly consistent with the comments made by numerous senior officials in recent months. As far back as last December, Secretary of State John Kerry stated: “Today, I raised our deep concerns about China’s announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone…. 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.”
Here’s a video of the panel in which Capt. Fanell made his blunt assessment. Fanell begins speaking around the 19:00 minute mark, right after The Diplomat’s own Naval Diplomat gives his remarks, which we republished here.