North-East Asian ADIZs

South Korea declared yesterday that it is expanding its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the submerged Ieodo rock, overlapping China’s ADIZ, to take effect on 2013-12-15. The South Korean announcement comes as a reaction and condemnation of China’s ADIZ, announced last month. Beijing has expressed regret.

The Chinese ADIZ is remarkable not because there is no precedent for zones of this nature, but because it effectively claims the need to be informed of any aircraft flying within the zone, which includes international airspace (as do other ADIZs) and, more controversially, it overlaps neighboring ADIZs. The entire purpose of an ADIZ is to eliminate confusion about nearby aircraft and to intercept enemy aircraft before it gets too close to sovereign airspace; but because China’s and South Korea’s ADIZs overlap with each other (and Japan’s), they are likely to cause rather than reduce confusion. Aircraft flying near Ieodo or the disputed island territories may face conflicting communications orders from multiple states, and potentially multiple attempts at interception. ADIZs are not explicitly included in international law and states are not obligated to abide by them, though they generally do in the spirit of collective security and in the interest of avoiding accidents.

Needless to say, Japan, South Korea and the US are not on board with China’s ADIZ declaration, rightly worrying that it lends to instability in the region.

In defiance of China’s announcement, South Korea conducted an air and sea exercises near South Korea’s Ieodo rock, which sits squarely within China’s ADIZ. The exercise included 2 P-3C patrol boats and 1 of South Korea’s 3 Aegis destroyers.

Japan also demonstrated noncompliance, scrambling 2 fighter jets against Chinese reconnaissance aircraft on the day of the announcement. South Korean and Japanese ADIZs immediately border each other but do not overlap.

Last week 2 American B-52 bombers entered China’s recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without notifying Beijing beforehand. The mission, an allegedly routine exercise called “Coral Lightning”, flew over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on 2013-11-25. Secretary Hagel called China’s ADIZ “destabilizing”, further noting that “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” The Chinese Defense Ministry claimed, “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” yet the Pentagon said the exercise occurred “without incident“.

Military confrontation appears unlikely. Beijing is facing embarrassment, but beyond that consequences will be benign. It is probably too much to hope for a cooperative international effort to regulate ADIZs so as to avoid similar political disputes in the future.

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